Sanctuary from essential shopping can be found in the new modern library overlooking Swansea Bay. The afternoon sun streams in from the west-facing panoramic windows; the sea shimmers glass-like with the outgoing tide. Distant Lowry matchstick people walking the beach appear silhouetted against the light and I see clearly what he saw. I’m too far from the shore to look for birds, but they’re there, somewhere out on the mudflats, beyond the glistening sand. I watch the readers; all generations sit studiously in the newly appointed reading areas. Students appear to work, but on closer inspection some are playing computer games, or reading newspapers. A few are just plain old-fashioned, deep inside real books, others peer seriously into laptops, and a few are ‘turning’ the pages of electronic books.
The sweep of the bay ends at the distant old lighthouse at Mumbles Head, gleaming in its recent new coat of white paint. At the end of the pier, four huge ugly piles stand up from the seabed; they’re laying the foundations for a new bigger lifeboat house, necessary to accommodate the latest expensive boat. They’ll be gone as soon as the work is finished and I ponder the future of the old lifeboat station, so bound up with the history of the village.
As I leave, groups of noisy children on the floor below are being introduced to learning via paper and screen. The sun slowly sinks over the lighthouse in a pale golden glow and I leave, uplifted and celebrating the paper library’s temporary victory over its inevitable defeat by the electronic age. I wonder how long books will last, but encouraged in the knowledge that these children will grow up knowing about the magic of feeling real books.