The ACT Heritage Library is OPEN on a wintry Saturday in Canberra, very welcoming indeed.

I have been thinking a great deal about libraries lately, for one reason and another. They closed during the shutdown period of COVID-19 in Australia, and have opened again (though all the while librarians were working behind the scenes, like the rest of our workforce, to adapt to the new situation and to provide what services they could). (Victorian libraries have had to physically shut down again, but I read that the librarians called every member.) I have jaunted around libraries all my life; school libraries, local libraries, national libraries, even private libraries; and their importance in my experience of the world rises in my mind like a brimming book itself, full of wonder and anecdote and hilarity, hope and learning.

I remember holding my creased and crumbling library card at the Junior School library (the books teetering above my head in what I recall now must have been a small room in an old building with just a few bookcases). It was the Junior School Library! It was ours! It was mine! I remember coming home from uni on the bus with ridiculously heavy bags of books, taking up the room beneath my seat, the bags lumpy and precarious on my lap, and maybe even onto the person next to me! And making a mad dash over to Macquarie Uni to read from their shelves as all the books on reserve in Fisher Library at Sydney uni were already booked out. I remember touring the Bodliean in Oxford, siteseeing in the Morgan Library in New York City, and the experience of being the only woman reader when I visited my nearest public library to read the English language newspapers, in the city of Ahmedabad in India in the 1980s (though the librarians were women).

The libraries in Canberra, a newer sort of city (though it rests on ancient land) have been such a great part of my life too, a constant resource of information, entertainment, and community. This rainy weekend I popped into the ACT Heritage Library to check out its new location in Fyshwick (a light industrial suburb notorius for its legal brothels and sex-industry shops, but seriously everyone it is mostly light industry, hardware stores, car yards etc). It moved from Woden Library last year. I researched there for the project ‘The Pearly Griffin the history of the old Griffin Centre’ (co-edited by Lizz Murphy and funded by ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services. I was delighted to be greeted by an inspiring exhibition about leadership, portraits by none of other than
Akka Ballinger Constantin of women leaders in our community, and their statements about leadership.  These included Justine Bamblett, Kerry Snell, Roma Lazio, Louise Bannister, Jenni Purkis, Sue Salthouse and Christina Ryan.

This all brings to mind the inclusion of my poem 821.3 in Old Civic Library published in my chapbook OPEN published by Rochford Press. It reflects the refuge of the library, what a library can provide on so many levels. A true story. It is set for me in 2002 the year before the 2003 fires. And since then, of course, we have known worse.

821.3 in old Civic Library

Look through the darkness
of light-sensitive glass
at the interchange
the missed connections,
takeaways and deals

hold your sweat wet
call-slip, and watch

while the infirm wait
for a kneeling bus,
the kids shove prams,
pull babies’ arms, out
in, like naughty dolls.
Police ask, ‘Where’s your Mum?’

Look down and turn the page.
Employment section rustles.

Look up. Outside a hand
hails a taxi and swollen
legs run for buses torn
from timetables. A boy
looks for coins in the gutter.
A woman and child sleep
they doze in the aisle
821.3 Australian poetry

under the blue fluoros
in the old Civic library
the air con sings
the librarian turns it up
the blades whirr and rattle
there’s fire in our skies
and a storm coming

2 thoughts on “Libraryphilia

  1. What a wonderful blog, Sarah. I love all of it, but perhaps especially the poem.
    “A woman and child sleep
    they doze in the aisle
    821.3 Australian poetry…”
    Looking forward to future posts enormously

    • Oh thank you, Ursula! And the scene with the woman and child is absolutely true. I felt the librarians knew they were there. Poor things they were exhausted. Like a Madonna and child if I am being whimsical. And it was so hot! I was in there seeking coolness and poetry as well! Such wonderful places, libraries!

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