Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 15, 2018

Library Lovers Day at Brighton Library

Yesterday was Library Lovers’ Day, an initiative of the Australian Library and Information Association.  And appropriately, I went to an event at Brighton Library featuring an author who has written an homage to libraries…

(First, a word about the building. The Brighton Municipal Offices building is a stunning piece of architecture, opened in 1961 and designed by Grant Featherston (1922-1995), a leading Australian industrial designer who is, IMHO, remarkable for having designed an attractive building amid the otherwise deplorable monstrosities of the 1950’s and 60s.  The library inside it was refurbished with a grant of $315,000 via the State Government’s Living Libraries Infrastructure Program. I mention this because government investment of that kind of money in libraries is a rarity.  Around the world, libraries are closing.  I hear about it happening in the US and the UK all the time.  But here at Brighton, the library has been upgraded for contemporary usage, so we met and mingled over champagne and nibbles and then moved to a beaut new wide open space specifically designed for library events.)

So. Things got under way with everyone in a fine mood.  I have to mention that I was among the youngest members of the large audience, but that may have been because it was Valentine’s Day, a commercial event never celebrated chez moi. There was a welcome from the head honcho of the library whose name I unfortunately missed, and then Sian Prior (author of Shy, a Memoir which is waiting patiently on my TBR) began chatting with Stuart Kells about his latest book, The Library, a Catalogue of Wonders. 

I haven’t read it yet, so here is the blurb:

Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s mediaeval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations.

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders is a fascinating and engaging exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It’s a celebration of books as objects and an account of the deeply personal nature of these hallowed spaces by one of Australia’s leading bibliophiles.

I had been half expecting some sort of slide show, featuring gorgeous libraries of the world, but it’s not that kind of book.  It’s more about the human drama of libraries, with gossip alongside anecdotes about the history of libraries.  And the conversation strayed over all sorts of interesting things…

Stuart talked, for instance, about ‘oral libraries’, and the need to protect them.  What he meant by that was that throughout human history oral storytellers have enabled the transmission of ideas, history, myth, legend and religious belief.  Here in Australia, indigenous story telling from an oral culture is threatened and needs to be protected just like other libraries do.  Mention was also made of the current ABC dismantling of its sound and reference libraries and what a loss that is going to be, especially since they’re not going to digitise all of it.  That loss of a library is not a threat, it’s already happening.

But while we booklovers might deplore these threats to books, these issues are contested.  Kells’ agenda is to highlight these matters, so that people become aware of them before it’s too late.  The digital age means that many libraries are going digital, and some schools have no school library as such.  I’ve seen it myself at the selective-entry Nossal High School, and it was the saddest thing: a beautiful architect-designed space, with no books in it – and no people either. Some people think that the era of the book is over…

At the conclusion of the talk amid the thankyous, it was suggested that if Stuart led a guided tour of world libraries, that most of us in the audience would sign up for it.  I turned to the young lady next to me and said that I would, and she said that it had never occurred to her to include libraries in her sightseeing.  She’d been to Dublin, and never seen Trinity College Library and The Book of Kells!  I didn’t dare ask if she’d been to our very own State Library of Victoria with its stunning dome and glorious reading room…

It would be remiss of me on Library Lovers’ Day not to mention my local library.  Browse through my posts and you will find countless references to Kingston Library as a source for the books I read.  It’s a wonderful library, providing a wide range of books, videos and music to suit every taste – including mine (which is not always the case in other nearby libraries).  The staff are friendly and helpful, they run beaut book events, they display all kinds of tempting books that interfere with any reading plans I might have, and they organise inter-library loans for me when they don’t have a book I want and can’t afford to buy.  They have a lively website where I can search the catalogue, renew or reserve books and even put in a request for books I’d like them to buy.  I still find it amazing that I can do all this online!

Sian Prior said that there are two things that libraries offer, and we should cherish them: a sense of community, and serendipity.  Serendipity – that sense of delight when you stumble on something that turns out to be a book you love –  doesn’t just happen by accident.  It happens in a library where you have a skilled acquisitions librarian, and a team who know how to display books so they will be found.  And the sense of community doesn’t happen by accident either:  I have membership at other libraries too, and I use them, but my local one is where I belong.  They know me, and I know them, and my library is an essential part of my life.

Are you a #LibraryLover?  Do tell me about your library and why it matters to you!

PS Thanks to Lynda Hayton, the Customer Service Librarian at Bayside for organising this event and keeping me up to speed with other forthcoming events like the Bayside Lit Festival – more about that in due course!


Responses

  1. Lovely post.I didn’t know yesterday was Nat’l Libraries Day. I haunt the Tasmanian Library in Hobart and love it. They are currently having some renovations done on their ceilings so it is a bit of a mess this month. I have more than a thousand books at home but make sure I use the library consistently as I feel they are so important to a community. I don’t see many threats to it at this time and hope that never changes. Wonderful to book books (so to speak) online and then pick them up when they come in. Better than shopping. :-)

    • Gosh, I am ashamed to say that although I’ve been to Hobart many times, I have never been to the Tasmanian State Library! I have been to the ones in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Canberra, so I’m not sure why this is. Maybe I’ve just been in the wrong part of Hobart and not come across it.
      *pause* #Google Tas Library.
      Oh. It’s a huge modern building. It’s on the corner of Murray & Bathurst Street and I’ve probably walked nearby a dozen times and not realised it was a library because I would have expected it to be deliciously old and historic. (Though probably the librarians are happier in a modern building, I bet).
      Anyway, I shall certainly redress this next time I’m in town. Wikipedia says that the Allport collection includes “about 2,500 colonial-era artworks and collections of Georgian era furniture, British, French and Chinese porcelain” – have they ever had exhibitions from this collection?

      • The Allport Museum in the library is in a separate part of the building and I’m afraid to say I don’t follow it a lot. But they do regularly have exhibits they advertise. I will have to pay more attention. They recently had a lot of artwork by Gould’s Wife of the birds. I did see part of that. The building itself, inside is fairly dreary and very much of the 60’s ? type architecture. Nothing old and elegant. I generally run in, get my books that are on hold and leave again. They have lots of things for kids and the homeless and disadvantaged take up a bit of space but that’s ok with me but some people grumble. After all a library should be for everyone.

        • Oh, oh, oh, artworks from Gould’s Book of Fish! And *aaagh!* I missed it! I have the original GBOF with the deckled edges and the coloured fonts and the paintings and I would love to see the originals!
          Do they have an emailing list of events I can sign up for?
          (And yes, libraries are for everyone, but only if they behave themselves. I have stopped going to Glen Eira library because it’s full of bratty uncontrolled children screeching and running about.)

          • I think it was the wife of the bird man Gould not fish. Here is their home page link if you want to have a wander around. cheers
            https://www.linc.tas.gov.au/Pages/Home.aspx

            • Thanks, I’ll have a look!
              BTW I emailed them to see if they had a mailing list, but they don’t. They advertise on Facebook and with Eventbrite (how does anyone follow that, I wonder?)

  2. Oh wow, what a stunning building that is in Brighton.
    As you know, I am a huge fan of libraries. It was my only real access to books when I was very young and I am forever grateful for the wonderful librarians who love books and readers (and writers!).
    The library here on the Redcliffe Peninsula in Queensland is always busy (but still in a restful way) and every time I hear something about libraries closing I think well that would be just crazy, given the number of people who benefit. It is my love of libraries that forces me to block out time once a month and spend a few hours choosing books for elderly housebound people. Unfortunately, I don’t have the car on those days so I can no longer deliver but there are some wonderful volunteers who pick up the bags, lovingly stacked with chosen works, and drive around the area to deliver.
    Long Live Libraries!

    • Amen to that, and how wonderful that you volunteer to help the housebound! When my father was still living at home but not able to get to the library any more, I enquired about this service and soon had him signed up and it was wonderful. They sent round someone who chatted with him about his favourite books, and then every week there would be a new stack of carefully-chosen titles and a friendly chat as well.
      This was a nice reward for him because he had been a longstanding volunteer at his local library, even attending one year as Father Christmas. One of the pleasures of his last months down here in Melbourne was the letters and cards he received from this library… they went to the trouble of sending a photo they had of him along with the staff and it had pride of place on the photoboard in his room. That’s pretty amazing customer service – bouquets to the Burleigh Heads Branch of the Gold Coast Library service!

  3. Of course I’m a library lover but I almost never these days go to my local library. I don’t dare as I just can’t afford to be tempted by more books to read! I do visit the National Library a lot – for the bookshop, events and exhibitions. And, like you, I have visited many of Australia’s big libraries, like the NSW and Victorian State Libraries. I have been to the South Australian one, which has a new building next to their original old building but it is used more for functions now I think. Sometimes those old library buildings just don’t fit well with modern library practice, do they? (I must add though that I agree that modern library practice should still involve BOOKS and PEOPLE, including PEOPLE to help people find books and to use electronic searching to find the info. they need)

    And of course I’ve been to some big overseas ones including the gorgeous Library of Congress. Last year when we went to Seattle, one of the must dos was to visit its new library which is famous for its architecture.

    Oh, and I have been to the Allport Library and Museum. It had a n exhibition, probably standing, about the Allports, but also a temporary exhibition featuring the 1880s botanical watercolours of Tasmanian artist Margaret Anderson Hope. Visiting this was a little treasure.

    • LOL I haven’t got enough self-control to stay out of the library… and not enough self-control when I get inside either!
      But oh yes, I do agree about people. There’s a difference in culture between the Glen Eira Library and Bayside Libraries, and the Kingston library I go to. They all have computers and self-checkout, but at Kingston it’s there if you want to use it, but it’s on the same desk as the staff, and there are always staff at the desk with a smile waiting to serve you, whereas at the other two, you are expected to do it all yourself and there’s no friendly interaction as a matter of course.

  4. I haven’t been to the (Vic) State Library, although as a student I lived near the Windsor Hotel and walked past the State Library every day. While I was living there I joined the Atheneum library which had a fabulous collection of Gollancz SF. Since, I’ve joined libraries wherever I go. I used the Mitchell one memorable week to read amongst other things MF’s Some Everyday Folk which I only found out recently had been reprinted. I used my daughter’s Curtin Uni account during my M.Litt. Now I raid Vic Park, Belmont and Cannington for audio books.

    • Ah, well, next time you’re in Melbourne we shall have a meetup at Mr Tulks (the café at the SLV, take in a quick wander through the onsite Readings shop, and then spend a blissful afternoon at the permanent exhibition and whatever else is on at the time. My favourite exhibit is a tiny piece of Babylonian script on a small piece of stone, one of the oldest examples of writing in the world. (See https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/whats-on/world-book)

      • Sounds irresistible Lisa. Thank you, I’ll let you know when I’m on the way. I probably shouldn’t tell you I’ve never been in the Melb Uni library either, though we had a lovely old one at Trinity.

        • It should be easy enough to add that to the itinerary!

  5. Libraries are the biz – I seem to be constantly raiding, and talking about, my local one at the moment! :)

    • Good! I think we must use our libraries, otherwise we will lose them.

  6. Great post, Lisa. It’s great to see that this library was renovated.

    I tend to drag reluctant husband and children to libraries when we’re abroad. So I’ve seen the Trinity College Library (*swoon*), the NY library among others.

    Once a bookworm, always a bookworm.

    • Oh yes, Trinity. *Swoon* indeed!


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