LONDON’S PUBLIC LIBRARIES are not always the best places to get work done, if you expect silence. Listen to that old man over there, coughing and wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his Lord Antony anorak. What’s he reading? Ah yes, Sven Hassel. And you, madam, kindly stop your kids running around. You’re not in Dr Chessington’s World of Adventures.
Here are a couple of library ambiences collected last Saturday. The first was recorded in Hackney Central Library, a modern, well-lit building near the Town Hall in Mare Street. To the left, you can just hear a man scribbling furiously on a pad with a ballpoint pen.
That was in a noisy, busy spot, but there are some secluded corners where those with high expectations of quiet can retreat to.
Westminster Reference Library is just south of Leicester Square on St Martin’s Street. High ceilings and decorative features give it the dignified municipal atmosphere of its time. The downstairs reading room had its windows open on a warm afternoon, letting in the sounds of passing cars.
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If you decide to visit, have a look at the Orange Street Congregational Church just round the corner. It seems to preserve a curious set of beliefs into the 21st century, that of British Israelism. A glass-fronted ‘wayside pulpit’ contains a lengthy handwritten rant about the state of the nation.