Today is Saint Valentine’s, in case you hadn’t noticed the phalanx of flustered florists rushing around your city. I could be bemoaning my single status, but as I’ve done quite a bit of moaning recently, I will turn my words to something much more positive. Books.
Next to the Iron Paw and her compatriots, books have been my best and most loving friends. They have engaged me, filled me with delight, taken me time travelling, helped me, shocked me, grown my mind into places I could never have dreamed of and generally been an enduring love of my life. People may fail you. Books never will. A book is an act of creativity and love by its author, and guess what, libraries are full of them. And…you can read them for free.
The Australian Library and Information Association have attempted to rebrand St V’s Day into Library Lover’s Day. I’m not sure that the flower growers will thank them for attempting to undermine their most profitable day of the year, but I am all for it. I love libraries. So this post is a tribute to libraries I have loved.
The first one is unquestionably the AH Bracks Library, run by the City of Melville back in the 1970s. It was in an unassuming toilet block brick building, almost opposite the guides hall on Stock Rd. The City has now built a new building on the opposite corner, but my memories are of the little library. It wasn’t fitted out in any spectacular way, and in fact, it wasn’t spectacular in any way at all except for the sense of serenity inside it. Mum would sometimes pick me up from school, and we’d go there. I have no idea where my brother was, and Dad was still at work. So it was just Mum and me, peacefully reading. The AH Bracks Library was a little oasis of peace in my turbulent life, where I got to see that my mother liked books as much as me. My mother taught me to read, when she plane/bus/ship and campervan schooled me in Year One. It was one of the few bonds we had that was completely pure and true.
I don’t remember much about school libraries, beyond having them. The next library to really make an impression on me was my university library. Almost too much of an impression in fact. It was totally overwhelming. But that says more about me and what a simple and sheltered life I’d had. The pressure of assignments forced that feeling underground, and I ransacked the shelves desperately, unable to appreciate what was going on inside me and unable to appreciate and properly use the goldmine that was in front of me.
I survived and did well enough to get taken on as an Honours student. This is how I met the Battye Library of Western Australian history. I’d never really met a reference library before. At first I was disappointed that open shelves were minimised. Through the disappointment I realised that this was asking me to know what I wanted, an odd notion that I had rarely encountered before.
It grew on me as I spent days up in the reading room, a little glass box that felt like it was suspended in space. I also have a very clear memory of how this library gave me succour from the terrible relationship I had embroiled myself in. Let me be plain, I have much better taste in books than I have in men. I remember standing at the top of the steps and feeling awful after another fight. ‘Just go to the library’, I told myself. ‘You’ll be fine’. And I was. The books endured, he didn’t.
Thesis lead to graduation lead to unrelated job lead to money. I confess that once I had money and could afford to buy books, libraries receded for me. But I’m talking about libraries today so I now have to skip many years until I arrived in Canberra. Enter the National Library. This library and I have a relationship that has survived even the most abusive of processes, the PhD. It is also only one short block away from the only decent rose gardens in the city. Double win.
A consolation prize goes to my local library, which in my current penury has been become part of my regular round. Just as the AH Bracks library was unlovely, so is this one. I’m annoyed with our government for wasting millions on projects like City to the Lake when the facilities which are already here are in such desperate need of makeovers. And which cater to the entire community, not merely those who are rich enough and well enough to go there. In the latest budget cuts, they’ve announced cuts to the mobile library service which I think is utterly wicked. So I will be continuing to use my local library, because it’s a good service and it needs the numbers.
My last library is the one that moved me to tears for its sheer beauty. You can’t borrow from it, and you have to pay to see it. Seeing it was my birthday present to myself last year. It is the library at Chatsworth House. I didn’t expect to cry when I saw it. All it needed for absolute perfection was the garden immediately outside. When I die, that’s where I’m going.
Libraries, I love you.