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The English Library, still going strong 

Our Puerto correspondent, Brian Eldridge sings the praises of the town´s English Library, where her is a volunteer, in his own unmistakable style.

The English Library in Puerto de la Cruz emphasises the length of time there has been a British presence in the town.

Whether you are a resident or a visitor, the library has been here to cater for your literary needs for over 100 years. I am sure that much has been written about the library before so to be honest I was in two minds if I should make any comment or indeed put my particular slant on it.

So why is it named the “English” library, one might reasonably ask? Opened, surely, during a time when the Union Jack was proudly flying throughout the world, why is it not the “British” library which after all would be far more representative of its current users? I wonder if in these politically correct times we are expected to live in, a name change has ever been considered.

I guess I am a bit of a closet Anglophile, proud of my heritage, of the country I grew up in, though obviously discontented enough by recent changes to choose to live here now. Yet even I recognise this point about the name and would accept a change; why not the “English Language” library which would encompass all of its present users? I am not really patriotic but have to admit to having recently taken some pleasure from replying to a recent, rather stout and quite arrogant, visitor who made a beeline to my desk and demanded to know where “the German language” books were kept. Of course, I politely informed her she was in “the English Library” so there were none.

Yes, there, I have admitted it, I am a Library Volunteer, or at least I am for two and a half hours each Friday afternoon, my allotted slot, as it were. Perhaps this is another reason for my hesitation before writing this. I will have to be careful what I say!

You will find me languishing behind the A to K desk, so if you want to put a face to the person who writes these little pieces about Puerto, why not pay us a visit. For you see I am ever the optimist, I always assume that there are some readers who take the trouble to read my articles and don’t just immediately turn to the TV pages to plan their next week’s British TV viewing.

So let’s get to the nitty gritty. What exactly has the Library got offer. Funded by subscription, it provides for its members the opportunity to borrow, books obviously, along with a good selection of DVDs and dare I say it, a complete wall full of VHS videos. Yes they still exist and yes there are members who borrow them. Don’t worry I will spare their blushes and refrain from naming them. There is a wide range of fiction, non-fiction; children’s books, talking books, large print books and a reference library are all on offer. You would be surprised what little gems you can unearth by searching along the shelves, many of which probably haven’t seen the light of day for years.

The library is open four days a week, on Monday and Friday afternoons from 3pm to 5.30pm and on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 1pm and is staffed and run completely by volunteers. Don’t worry I am not typical, the majority of volunteers are much more sensible!

The library offers much more than as already detailed above, including a computer club and a gardening club which is responsible for the upkeep of the beautiful gardens. Social events are organised throughout the year, hog roasts, garden parties, paella parties, informative talks and demonstrations. There is even a do-it-yourself pantomime which relies on audience participation. The building is also used by other clubs; it really is one of the social hubs for the resident British community.

I became a member of the library long before considering becoming a volunteer and at first I admit I was a bit dubious. The whole idea struck me as being a tad colonial, a little piece of England, plonked down in the middle of Tenerife. Whilst not exactly expecting pith helmets, Pimms and croquet on the lawns, it didn’t seem to sit well with my original plan to integrate with the locals.

The building dating from 1903 is a glimpse of a bygone age, sympathetically maintained to retain its original character and a constant drain on available funds. To me it always evokes an image of a typical 1950s style rural village hall, not that I can remember them, but I have seen pictures. I hadn’t used a library in the UK for years, probably not since my school days. I think it was because they were always too stuffy, far too quiet and the librarians, all seemingly cast from the same mould, far too formidable and intimidating. Much different now back in the UK, or so I am told. You scan your own books out and return them to drop boxes, a completely impersonal service.

Of course, the English library is so different. The only visible concession to ‘technology’ is the catalogue of the titles in stock. Everything else is still very much manual, relying heavily on good old pen and paper, together with of course the obligatory rubber stamp and long may it continue. If it works, is there really any need to change it? And the library is never quiet. It is after all a meeting place, where regular visitors congregate and exchange news, views and local gossip. Quiet? Certainly not, at times it can get quite vocal. Of course, my comments are a reflection of my Friday experiences, other days may be different. Far from being formidable, the volunteers who man the library are as you would expect helpful and friendly and will always greet you with a smile. Well perhaps not me but then there is always an exception to the rule!

Who uses the library? As you would expect, there is a nucleus of all year residents whose numbers are swelled dramatically during winter months by the arrival of the ‘swallows’ or ‘temporary members’ to use library jargon. Yet it doesn’t mean the library is exclusive, Casual visitors are welcome, come in, have a look around, sit and read in the garden. Whilst the shortness of their stay in practical terms excludes holiday makers from borrowing, they are still welcome to make use of the facility and of course their airport purchases of the latest releases are always gratefully received donations.

So where is the library? Surely everybody knows. You would be surprised; most taxi drivers when asked will look at you with a blank expression, even the local police when called recently didn’t seem to have a clue. It is in Calle Irlanda. Still none the wiser? Try behind the British School on the edge of Taoro Parque. If you have never been, why not pay a visit. New members are always sought-after and made very welcome.

With the ever growing popularity of E books, can the library possibly survive? Of course it can, there will always be people who like me prefer to read from the printed page. Besides, change happens very slowly in Tenerife. The introduction of WIFI was I’m sure a revelation. So how does the library promote itself? Word of mouth is certainly a major factor but there is also a website, a blog, a Facebook page and of course the regular book reviews and horoscope page in this very paper. The library has much to offer, as does the building and its beautiful gardens.