Great! Our library is future proof!

John Flood was flabbergasted when he saw the books of the Bodleian library. So primitive! Luckily Groningen's library is more future proof.

‘I was amazed to read in a recent UK that there is any question about the excellence of the renovations that are currently being carried out in the library. Hadn’t your reporter read the library website where we learn that it is its intention ‘to create fantastic new workspaces and lounge areas in a modern and inspirational building. All this is to ensure that the University Library is once again future-proof’?

I for one am a great believer in future proofing, and I am glad to know that our next future proofing will be better than our current one. This, however, may seem a bit theoretical when compared with the tangible benefits of the new learning grid with its colourful seats, wooden boxes and plastic, dangly curtains.

Red lighting

Only the most conservative of library users could lament the amount of space it takes up since there is plenty of room on that floor since the books and study places were removed. As there are few – if any – places in Groningen where one might relax with a drink and meet some friends, I greet this innovation with as much enthusiasm as I did the nights of entertainment that the library put on, and I can only abhor the person who commented that all the study grid is missing now is some red lighting.

The UB

As the renovations progress, I look forward to further improvements. For one thing, there are currently very many shelves cluttering up the other floors. I’m glad to see the end of the paternalist model where recommended texts are on open shelves and I am sure students enjoy guessing which of the hundreds of books on Shakespeare or Napoleon might be useful for writing an essay. I don’t notice the inevitable delay in delivery from the store as it gives me more time to move the partitions of the study grid around.

Fitness Area

Going forward, I would like to make a modest proposal. It is certain that in the future all existing books will be digitised and we should plan for it now by emptying the library’s basement and hiring a designer and some consultants to work on an inspirational Study Grid +∞, which might incorporate a fitness area (‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’) and Wii mind gyms. For sentiment’s sake we might keep, let’s say, 400 books and some of the prettier bindings might be incorporated into the decor.

Some persons of a desponding spirit would doubtless be in great concern about the vast number of volumes that would require disposal, but as the American environmentalist R. Bradbury points out, the recycling of a ton of thermo-mechanically pulped books as toilet paper saves 4,100 kw of energy, reduces landfill and saves roughly 17 trees. Recycling dead stock such as this would be in keeping with the university’s commitment to sustainability. (However, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual.)


Sometimes we only appreciate what we have when we travel and see the sorry plight of others. You cannot imagine my feelings when, some months ago, I had occasion to visit the Bodleian library in Oxford. There – and you will hardly believe it, but I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in exaggeration – every nook and corner is filled with bookshelves. Even the basements are inhabited with troglodytic readers who are forced to use narrow, sometimes subterranean passages and staircases on which no-one can use phone!

Bodleian library Oxford / Photo

Think how surprised I was when I recalled that the first things one looks for in a library, namely a comfortable seat and a coffee, is entirely unknown there. When I was hungry I actually had to walk down the stairs and traverse 20 metres to get something to eat. The whole set-up was so primitive that it is no wonder that their university is nowhere near ours on the league tables. In the meantime, safely home at Groningen, I await further soft furnishings and inspiration in our own library with an anticipation that borders on incontinence.’

Yours sincerely,

John Flood
Department of English Language & Culture