Mosman library can be found behind Military Road with its endless boutiques, through an open air arcade that makes me strongly recall the 80s. This was when I was most familiar with Mosman, as it was where my mother’s preferred hairdresser worked. The salon was in one of the brick arcades, and my main memories of going there were my fascination with the hair sweepings and how every time the hairdresser suggested I cut my long hair short (note: it is still long).
Mosman is a different world from the one I inhabit. It starts as soon as the traffic is deflected north down Spit Road, leaving Military Road to Mosman traffic only. Looking for the library I passed many rich blonde haired women out shopping, a huge gourmet food shop with a cheese room, people taking lunch seated by a fountain, and a council noticeboard with an ad for the very event I had come to Mosman for, the zine workshop I was due to run that afternoon.
The entrance to Mosman Library is this rather unassuming walkway which makes it look like it is part of a maze of pathways in a “find the library” video game.
Inside, the library is divided int0 two sections, one is the children’s section, with pirate flag bunting hanging across the ceiling, and the other is the adult books, fiction and non-fiction. Right at the back of the library is the “Teen Zone”, which was where I was to conduct the workshop. I met the youth librarian who had organised the workshop at the front desk: out of all the staff I had a strong feeling she was the person I’d been emailing, and sidled up and introduced myself.
As I was working in the library, rather than my usual anonymous note-taking patron routine, this time I was privy to the behind the scenes areas. All libraries have these secret office areas somewhere, usually hidden away so you would not even know they were there. On my brief excursion to this section of the library I felt my usual nervousness at being in a private place, with people busy at their desks, a pinboard of postcards from holidaying colleagues, and whiteboards of schedules.
The librarian gathered together a trolley full of materials, containers of scissors, gluesticks and other zinemaking materials, and we went down to Teen Zone to set up. Unlike the rather brickbound front of the library, the back windows looked out on trees and the green expanse of an oval. Tables had been arranged to form one long table down the centre of the space, although I think there are usually beanbags there, as they were piled up against the side into one tall big beanbag mound. During the parts of the workshop where everyone was working away diligently I had to stop myself looking at the beanbags and thinking about curling up on top of them, like a cat.
I’ve conducted many zine workshops over the years and each has its own particular feeling to it, depending on the location and the age of the participants. This workshop was for under 18s, and so there were a couple of teenage girls making artist books, two younger girls making a zine of mythological creatures (they knew a lot about them, at one point I heard them seriously discussing the Kraken), a charmingly polite boy obsessed with Nerf guns who made a zine about them, and a brother and sister who had come from Belgium only a week earlier.
After I showed examples of zines and the tricks to making them, the librarian suggested someone pick a CD to put on. The Belgian boy went and picked out “Jungle Blues” by C.W Stoneking, which was not what I was expecting. “Is this the music young people like these days?” I asked. The teenage girls seemed particularly upset by the banjo blues and after a few songs C.W. was replaced by the Triple J Hottest 100.
My students were working away industriously on their zines and I went to explore the library a little. I have found that it is not good to be constantly hovering over a workshop group, especially when people are making zines. I wouldn’t like to have a constantly looming woman looking over my shoulder while I tried to draw a realistic picture of an owl, asking me how I was going every 5 minutes.
The Non-Ficton collection is vast and includes sections I hadn’t noticed in any other library yet:
Would reading about insomnia at night help you go back to sleep? I wondered. The cover made me feel instantly anxious, so probably not. I opened it and read a few paragraphs about sleeping pills, in particular one called Halcion. While I am no specialist in benzodiazepines, I knew of this drug because of the name’s allusions: to the mythical bird that calms the sea and also to one’s “halcyon days”. I have now and then thought about how pharmaceuticals are named, though have discovered little information about this. Rather than allusions to Greek Mythology, drugs these days are just heavy on the x’s and the vowels. Perhaps this is safer in case the drug, like Halcion, turns out to occasionally trigger psychosis.
Back at the workshop my students sent me on a few bookfinding errands. I found the section on France in the travel section for one of the teenage girls and gathered together a pile of books about fairies for the mythological creatures zine. The girls were discussing if fairies counted as mythological, and also explained to me the difference between a mermaid and a siren: mermaid good, siren bad, but they look the same. While I knew this already, I sensed they wanted to tell me, so acted like I didn’t know.
During the workshop I made many trips to the photocopier, which was at the front of the library, to copy images of cars for the boy who had chosen C.W. Stoneking. He had a big, heavy book about cars and chose the strangest examples to put in his zine, to write stories about. When I’d asked the group what they were going to make their zines about, he had put up his hand and said “Can you make an encyclopaedia of cars, with each car having a story?” Yes, I said, and showed him my shopping list zine, in which I wrote stories about the different shopping lists I’d collected.
The cars he chose were the strangest in the book, and this one in particular, the Tucker, caught my attention.
“Why does it look so strange?” I wondered aloud.
“It has three eyes!” the boy said.
Walking to and from the photocopier took up quite a bit of the afternoon. Every time I passed the magazine section in which, like Campsie Library, the magazines were housed in clear boxes.
The more libraries that I go to, the more I notice the particular styles and elements that I think are particular to the first library where I see them, until I start noticing them in others. The one that I have noticed the most is shopping baskets, which seem to be in most libraries, although I didn’t notice any in Mosman. One thing Mosman had that I hadn’t noticed in other libraries was reader’s reviews, which were pinned to a board near the new book display. My favourite was:
As those who notice details will have already realised, Mosman Library’s logo is a whale reading a book.
As well as strange cars, I also copied pictures of spiders for the car boy’s sister, who was making a zine about spiders. She seemed quite fascinated by the idea of Australia’s poisonous spiders, as in Belgium the spiders are small and innocuous. “People say don’t worry, the only place where spiders are poisonous is Australia. But then where do we move!” she said.
“Are you afraid of spiders?” I asked.
“No. I like them,” she said.
I wondered what the man waiting to use the copier thought as I made copy after copy of the wolf spider, trying to get it the right size and contrast. Would he even wonder at all? It’s not polite to pay too much attention to what people are copying, although it hard to resist peeking.
As I was on my way back with the spider pictures I noticed a woman browsing the cookery section wearing a Hard Rock Cafe shirt. It had been a long time since I had noticed a Hard Rock cafe t-shirt, although I remember years ago joking with friend Steph about how stupid their slogan “No Drugs or Nuclear Weapons Allowed Inside” was. We devised a scenario in which we would enter Sydney’s Hard Rock Cafe strapped to a giant papier mache nuclear weapon, just to see what they would do.
The kids’ zines were progressing well and I went around and inspected everyone’s work before going to chat to the librarian in the manga section. I’d bought a t-shirt earlier in the week that said Ranma 1/2 on it, which is a manga series about a boy martial artist who turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. I hadn’t read it, but I liked the shirt, so I looked for a copy of a book from the series. I found one but got distracted talking with the librarian about the Mosman Library Manga club. They have lots of events for teenagers, one I noticed posters for was the zombie party which was being held to celebrate Friday 13th.
A woman came up enquiring about a particular book, which just happened to be on a display next to the workshop tables. I had been glimpsing it all afternoon. It was a guide to being a vegan as a teenager, called Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager. The other book the woman was looking for was the Veganomicon, which is the most popular vegan cookbook of the moment. I like a good vegan cookbook, but so far all I have got from the Veganomicon is the name, which sticks in my head. I imagined that this woman’s teenager had recently gone vegan. It was nice that their mum went out to find information about it. I hoped her teenager was kind vegan, rather than a bossy vegan.
Behind the shelf that had the teenage vegan book on it was another shelf of books on display, one of which was called Literary Hoaxes. I meant to pick it up and investigate it but then the workshop was wrapping up, parents were coming to collect their kids and the hoax book slipped my mind. People get a lot of pleasure out of literary hoaxes, perhaps because, at least in the case of fiction, it is an extension of the fiction beyond the pages of the book. My favourite hoax of recent times is J.T. Leroy, although I wouldn’t call that a hoax more a case of taking a pseudonym too far. I would be happy not to have to hear anything about Ern Malley ever again, however.
We collected the scrap paper, picked the little shreds of paper up off the floor, I packed up my zines and alphabet stamps and the workshop was over. I browsed the book sale trolley on my way out, which had a lot of travel guides and multiple copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, another book with a good name. I am neither travelling nor expecting, though, and none of the other books appealed to me either. I should have bought one just to have a copy of that whale stamp…