Let me introduce myself: I'm Mary, the greenest Intern in Gladstone's Library, having begun 10 days ago. You may remember me from the 2am chat I had with you on the eve of my interview, when nerves stopped me sleeping and your portrait kept side-eyeing me. As I learn more about this place, I feel I'm getting to know you; let me reciprocate, then, by telling you about my first week here.
Change is always nerve-wracking, and I'll admit I felt quite strange as I hopped off the bus last Monday. Not strange in the sense of talking to long-dead Prime Ministers as a coping mechanism (though evidently that's now A Thing That I Do, yay), but strange in the sense that my stomach seemed to have relocated to my throat.
I've always been better with new books than new people.
Thankfully, my anxiety was as misplaced as my tummy felt, and both are back in their proper places now. All the new beings that I've encountered in my time so far, booky and breathing alike, have been incredibly kind and welcoming. (With the exception of the hardback that clobbered me yesterday. I'd have expected more of a book of Psalms.)
When I think about it, that's one of the best things I've observed about the Library: in a time of increasing social and political divides, it provided and provides a safe intellectual space – a place of nurture for the mind and spirit, with a love of books being the only prerequisite in a reader.
It does what it says on the tin and more - or said on the tin, when the Library was made of it, at its very beginning. Corrugated metal over what is now our car-park, and an accompanying hostel, so that poor students could sleep near their studies (as a recent poor student I appreciate the thought.)
What was it, again, that you aimed to do? "Unite books who have no readers, with readers who have no books."
I rather think you've succeeded.
To return to my own experience at the Library, my first few days felt like a deluge of new information. So much so that - although the pace has slowed as I've grown used to it – it would take me longer than I have to explain everything I've learned. So here's a handy list of bullet points!
Things I Learned in my First Week at Gladstone's Library:
- You (W.E.G.) read 22,000 books in your lifetime (that's a lot of trees).
- You (W.E.G.) really liked chopping down trees (makes sense).
- You (W.E.G.) probably didn't transport 32,000 of your books from Hawarden Castle to the library, in a wheelbarrow, at the age of 85, with only the help of your daughter and a valet.
- But it makes a fab story.
- I can't use a ladder in the library until I've had Ladder Safety Training.
- Bindon (the stuff we use to repair book spines) smells like fish.
- As far as I know it doesn't contain any.
- If someone hasn't provided their name when they check a book out, we put you (W.E.G.) down as the reader. This week I see you've been researching capitalism, Modern Britain, and Celtic femininity and sexuality. I applaud your eclectic taste.
- I probably shouldn't blog on this much caffeine.
- There are more books housed in this library – 250,000 – than I thought possible.
- I want to read them all.
In all seriousness, W.E.G., this is a wordy, weird and wonderful legacy that you left us, and I feel very lucky to be living in it. And eating the food. Particularly the bread-and-butter pudding.
Till next time.