Fortunately it has now been listed as Grade 2, so perhaps it will be treated with more respect and someone with a good eye will supervise restoration to its original graciousness and beauty.

The outside steps are carefully designed, with the splendid bronze central handrail carefully divided in two so that the main doors can slide in between, and the scrolled ends shaped to comfort the hand. Unfortunately the bronze capping has now gone from the entrance rails. When the Library is closed, with the main doors shut, one can see the elegance of the building. It is arguably the best exterior in Muswell Hill and should have been listed long ago.

The interior used to be equally distinguished, with a Reading Room on the ground floor ant] a small Children's Library beyond, entered from the side road. The staircase to the Library above was a delight. Sixty years of wear have not been able to damage the stair­rail, but in the 1930s it was a simple, uncluttered stairway in marble terrazzo: a suitable approach to the elegant room above.

In the Library itself there was a central reservation, with an entrance for returning books on one side and an exit for stamping them on the other. Round the walls were oak shelves, with three radiating bookcases in the centre, and every book in place. The library was lit by chaste hexagonal glass lanterns designed to give the greatest diffusion of light acid so a daylight effect, making the room a delight to enter. It was the nearest thing I knew to the secluded libraries found in novels, elegant, quiet, full of unexpected books which could take one along unknown paths to distant futures. Today the impression of the library is very different, drab and unkempt. Perhaps this is the future of libraries: jostling market places for the Information Society. If so, when do we have time to think?

Muswell Hill Library is not the only one to have been affected by underfunding, failure of civic pride and loss of direction. In half a dozen London boroughs, oak shelving has been ripped out on the excuse that it was old and splintery, when all it needed to make it new and safe again, was two coats of good varnish. In place of oak we have been given supermarket shelving in characterless fibre-board and a sense of impermanent litter. The period of 'modernization' was quickly followed by a drastic reduction of funds and a freeze on book buying.

 

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