Let it be known that I have always had a thing for libraries. I remember, much akin to one of my first literary heroes Matilda, the feeling of freedom and excitement I had when I received my first library card. I felt like worlds had opened up to me; the energy of knowledge waiting to be discovered crackled unseen yet palatable under my fingertips as I trailed the aisles of books looking for whatever I would learn next. I was convinced there was magic in the air.
The Whitfield Library, where I received my beloved library card, was almost a microcosm of the housing scheme itself. Behind an austere, almost Soviet facade was a warm gentle beating heart. It exists only in my memory now, subject to the folly of the mind, and no doubt the interior was not as comfortable as I remember. The carpet, likely rough and industrial compared to the comforting plush of my childhood memories, the tall thin windows serving no purpose but to accentuate the gloom with dramatic slashes of light as opposed to giving everything the tobacco-coloured cast I remember so well.
I remember once going on a school trip, walking the 200 metres from my primary school gates, in boy-girl-boy-girl pairs and hand in hand like animals making the short trip up the gangplank to the Ark. Those school gates have also been demolished now, lost in the deluge of progress.
Inside the library chaos reigned and while my class around me all ran in circles or giggled at illustrated biology textbooks, I was pouring over the shelves of books, irritated that my sanctuary had been defiled. I wasn't allowed to check any books out that day, while my classmates stood in line to check out books picked seemingly at random – I had already reached my limit and couldn't take any other new adventures home.
My obsession with libraries didn't end there. When I finally reached high school – which as I write is currently still standing, although its future remains uncertain due to an instigated fire some months ago – I became a resident of the library. I would spend hours there; before school, between classes, during lunch and even long into the afternoons, until the librarian would lock the doors and wearily send us on our way.
I credit that high school librarian for the man I am today, giving me recommendations which satiated my need for stories featuring characters who resembled me in some way. In the post Section-28 society we were living in, these recommendations would have been illegal some five or six years prior.
Now that the deluge of rejuvenation is sweeping Dundee, with the arrival of the V&A, many architectural delights are popping up all over the city. In Whitfield we have the imaginatively named 'The Crescent' as our proposed new community hub. An antiseptic crescent shaped creation, situated on Lothian Crescent, and it is here our new 'libraryl is based.
The new library seems more like an afterthought by the architect. A few book shelves and computers in a corner off the main entryway. Any comfort or encouragement for people to get lost in other worlds and spend some time seems to be overwritten by a longing for them to just get lost. It is this loss of comfortable community spaces which has locals, not just in Whitfield but across Dundee as a whole, crying 'gentrification'.
Interestingly it is the loss of another old library which has pulled this argument firmly into the zeitgeist. The Reading Rooms, once a local library and now a dance music venue which has been host to some of the largest names in the DJ world (I depend on friends for this information as dance music is something which has largely passed me by. An encyclopedic knowledge of Alice Deejay's debut album does not a dance music fan make) has now closed its doors for good and has fans of the venue and the talent it hosted launching petitions and asking questions as the masterminds behind it look for other avenues, and indeed other locations.
Some of the questions being asked are leaving residents baffled. While Dundee City Council talks about revitalising the city, the residents are left seeing very little real improvement. Under the most challenging retail environment possibly ever seen many retail units are left empty, seemingly abandoned, until the next chain restaurant comes sniffing, resulting in an almost perpetual carousel of food and drink establishments.
The attitude of Dundee City Council, as it attempts to negotiate this new phase in its history, feels very much like a city trying incredibly hard to compete with the big boys, but having 30 years of shared history, I can't help but think that this seems more like a council with big ambitions playing at dressing up old enough to get into a nightclub. It's just a shame all the nightclubs are being closed down.