Tn is evening, at the climax of National Libraries Week, 24 public and academic libraries will stay open all night. They promise their visitors a hush-busting hullabaloo of events from the expected - net-surfing and ghost stories - to weirdly inapt treats such as pyjama parties and "loud rock with chill-out sessions".

Oh dear. I think I want to curl up in a quiet corner with a nice book. Each year, the library service's worthy bid to dress itself in groovy gear leaves it looking more than ever like Rankin' Will Hague in his baseball cap. Besides - knowing librarians - I suspect that the rock will feature more REM than The Prodigy.

Meanwhile, at the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, today's star-spangled showcase for London's borough libraries includes a discussion of the Football Task Force fronted by its chief, David Mellor. With Colin St John Wilson's unfairly maligned British Library about to open for business at St Pancras, it is worth remembering that the Putney reject's slanderous attacks on its architect almost cost Wilson his livelihood. Given Mellor's record, to let him lead a festival of the printed word makes as much sense as putting Herod in charge of the creche.

These false notes struck in a very good cause prove two things. First, the library sector lacks intellectual confidence, as well it might after two decades of attrition from the thriving retail market on one flank and the penny-pinching state on the other. Second, it has precious little grasp of which bits in the popular culture it tries to mimic fit its special mission best. A truly alert librarian would make the stacks ring not to rock but to rap - which has traceable connections to much of the verse on the shelves. From Ice T to the Icelandic skalds is not that loud a shout, after all.

Instead, we get a crass, Waterstone's-sponsored campaign to make reading "sexy" by encouraging library-users "to analyse their book-life in the same way that they analyse their love-life". This misconceived stunt takes a deep truth that all literate cultures acknowledge - the mysterious erotic power of private reading - and smothers it in banalities.

In his oddly stilted manifesto, Will Self proclaims that "Libraries are sexy. I really believe this". So do I, but it would be fun if someone in the trade displayed just a passing acquaintance with the inside of their books. I gave up on Mr Self and retreated to the truly arousing passage in the Inferno where Dante meets the damned lovers Paolo and Francesca, who explain how they would read an old romance of Sir Lancelot together. She recalls (in Peter Dale's fine translation) that "several times the reading changed our tone/ And colour" until they reached the point at which the hero and his lady kiss - and did the same. "That day we read no further." It beats "loud rock".

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