Kingston (later Griffith) Public Library, Canberra
This was my local public library when I was a child, and it was like a treasure box to me. It was in Kingston until about 1993, when it moved to a bigger and better location at the former Griffith Primary School. It had the most amazing children's and YA collection, and I discovered many of the most meaningful books of my life there (The Girls in the Velvet Frame
! Of Nightingales That Weep
!). As a teenager, I began every school assignment there, reading the relevant entries in encyclopedias in order to find reference books (my cohort was on the cusp - the internet existed, but it was all but useless as a reference tool). But the truly amazing thing about this library was its librarians, and how dedicated and passionate they were. Every weekend, two of them hosted a reading group for children, where they would read stories aloud and run activities. They were really knowledgeable about children's books and genuinely loved children and encouraged them to read. I wish I'd been able to go back as an adult before they retired and told them how much they meant to me.
The truly sad thing is that in 2007, the ACT government shut down Griffith Library due to a perceived lack of use, leaving the entire inner south of Canberra without a public library. The real reason was that the rest of the old Griffith Primary School site was being used as lucrative conference spaces, and the government wanted to cash in and use the space occupied by the library in order to make more money.Narrabundah College Library
This was my school library during the last two years of secondary school, which in the Canberra public school system takes place in separate schools to the four earlier years of high school. There was nothing particularly revolutionary about it - it was a fairly average public school library, with an okay range of books, dial-up internet that crawled slowly, and a couple of librarians who seemed to know the name of every student.
What was special was the library as a space. College was the first time that we, as students, were given free periods (the timetable functioned in such a way that if you took the recommended six subjects per trimester, you ended up with one free period on four out of the five school days). We were allowed to do whatever we wanted during the frees, and I often wound up in the library with a bunch of friends, ostensibly 'studying', but in actual fact playing cards, drawing in our exercise books, reading novels or gossiping. One of my friends once wrote a poem based on snippets of every conversation she'd heard in the library during her free period.
In other words, the library was our space. The social life there moved at a slower and less urgent pace than on the oval, in the quad or cafeteria, where the push and pull of high school politics and diplomacy exerted more force. The library was a space where we could take a break from worrying about the overwhelming drama of our social lives.Fisher Library, University of Sydney
The first thing I did in the orientation week at uni was take a tour of the library, as I was anxious to know how to use it. I remember walking in and feeling as if I'd died and gone to heaven. I'd never seen so many books in one place.
Back in the dim dark days of 2003, the library had an eight-floor research library (where books could be borrowed for two weeks by undergrads) and a four-floor undergrad library (where loans were only for a week), a bunch of computers (which always had a huge queue - this was in the days before laptops were common on Australian university campuses, and those that were were extremely heavy). There was also a special reserve area, where course coordinators would move set texts for their courses. Books in special reserve could only be used in the library, and only borrowed for a two-hour period, which did a huge amount to ensure equal access. That said, some of my fondest memories of undergrad were engaging in vicious recall wars with fellow students, as we fought to borrow a limited number of set texts. I used to be particularly ruthless about going in at the start of term and borrowing whatever Shakespeare text we would be studying in the various English classes I was taking.
I got to know the contours of Fisher particularly well. I haunted the two or three cases covering medieval Celtic literature, and knew exactly where to find the history books that were relevant to my Jewish Studies course. Whenever I had to do translation for my Medieval Irish class, I'd take the huge Dictionary of the Irish Language down from the shelf and sit near a ground-floor window, furiously trying to figure out how the spelling of Old Irish words might have changed in Middle Irish texts. In other words, Fisher was the library that taught me how to be a student.
In the years since I graduated, Fisher has got rid of most of its books, to the extent that it's impossible to do any form of postgraduate research in the humanities there. This breaks my heart.Goyder St Community Library
When Griffith Library got closed down, the people of the inner south of Canberra were so incensed that they decided to do something about it. The result was a community library, run by volunteers out of a demountable building on Boomanulla Oval in Narrabundah. I lived in Canberra during the early stages of Goyder St's existence, and through a series of coincidences, got involved.
In 2007, I had moved back to Canberra basically because of a quarter-life crisis panic. In retrospect, it was a terrible decision, causing the depression I'd had on and off since the beginning of my adult life to reach almost intolerable levels. ( Cut for a little discussion of the effects of depression )
Anyway, somehow, I remembered through the desperate fog of my mind that I had joined a Philip Pullman fansite
several years earlier, and logged back on. I was extremely fortunate that the denizens of that site were truly amazing people who gave me the sole reason to get out of bed that year. Every evening I was in chat with the few European night owls, and lucubratae
, who was the only other Australian on the site, and who, serendipitously, lived a short walk away from me in Canberra. Pretty soon, I'd met up with him in person - the first internet friend I'd ever met 'in real life'. And he volunteered at Goyder St. Pretty soon, I'd been roped in.
In those early days, it was chaos. The volunteers had more enthusiasm than technical library know-how. No one knew how to catalogue, internet was erratic, and there were tensions among the different volunteers. Many residents were outraged at the closure of Griffith Library, wanted to do something to help, but had no time to volunteer. Instead, they donated vast numbers of books, often of poor quality, creating a huge backlog of cataloguing work for the volunteers and contributing to the cluttered, claustrophobic atmosphere of the building.
The point is, for one shining moment, enough people were angry enough to come together and do something to make their corner of the world a little bit better. And I was carried along with them. The community library got me out of the house for something other than a job that made me anxious and miserable, and for that I will always be grateful. English Faculty Library, University of Cambridge
While the main Cambridge University Library is more imposing (it's a copyright library and thus has a copy of every book ever published in the UK, as well as an impressive collection of rare books, maps and manuscripts), the English library had much more of an impact on my life. Not only have I spent the past six years researching there, using its excellent collection of books on Celtic Studies, it's also responsible for my current career as a library assistant. In the first year of my PhD, I decided to take a job at English as a weekend invigilator in order to make a bit of extra cash. I loved it so much, and the assistant librarian and librarian were were such inspirational and helpful mentors that I decided to go into library services, rather than academia, after finishing my PhD.
The librarian in particular is just exemplary. She goes out of her way to make sure that English is exactly the library that its users want. She holds training sessions in referencing and editing software and other research skills. She holds weekly tea-and-biscuits sessions for students, a way for them to take a short break from their studies and relax over a hot drink. There are beanbags in the library for students to sleep on. There are poetry competitions, Easter eggs at Easter, sweets and chocolate during exam term and the week when dissertations are due, annual surveys whose results are collated and then responded to in comprehensive reports addressing the main points raised and explaining what, if any, changes will be made. In other words, it's exactly as an academic library should be: a community where everyone's voice is heard.
I love libraries so much.