I stepped off the train at Blacktown station into a summer day of the type that has yet to make it to the area of Sydney I live in: humid and sunny in a way that it is hard to escape. I went in search of the library where I was to conduct a zine workshop, passing by old arcades and stopping off at the hidden Vinnies, which has its sign on the street but its entrance in the lane behind.
Blacktown is one of those suburbs which has a large shopping centre, Westpoint, the kind of place you go into for the air conditioning and to forget the world outside. It also has the older shopping streets, with little arcades branching off, housing mysterious businesses. The library is in between these two sides of Blacktown, a serious block of a building with large ENTRY signs on the automatic doors. I thought about it for a moment and realised it was one of those kinds of buildings where it might be hard to determine the entrance otherwise.
In the foyer was a glass display case full of zines, which I encountered in the way one encounters old friends. In among the zines were items of stationery, my favourite being two paperclips resting one on top of the other. I liked to think of them being arranged lovingly in this way. Paperclips don’t get much attention, have you ever thought about the fact that someone invented them?
I next looked through the book sale trolleys at the entrance to the library. A man was browsing them too, he had a big stack picked out to buy. My looking was fairly distracted as I was thinking about my impending workshop. I was a bit early, as usual, and so set off through the library to see what I could find. In the non fiction section I started looking through a book called Famous Last Lines.
I have no particular interest in railways but I was curious about the idea of endangered railways. My concentration on the trains was broken by the man sitting on a chair nearby, who had a book open on his lap and was underlining in it with a pen. Was it a library book? I looked closely and it appeared to be so. Here was one of these people I had previously only discovered traces of, when I am reading a book and distracted by their underlining and I think “what kind of a person does that?”. It was a chemistry book, and he underlined the words “carbon disulfide” as I watched. At the point the librarian who had organised the workshops found me and I thought for a moment about drawing the underlining to her attention. But then I was following her upstairs in a lift and into the secret realm of library offices, which like in many libraries is tucked away so you wouldn’t even notice it.
I wrote at length about my zine workshop at Mosman library, so I won’t go into detail about this one. The workshop was held in the young adult section downstairs. It was for teenagers and the highlight for me was the girl who described her bedroom to me in great detail, while drawing a little diagram on a piece of scrap paper. She had spent a lot of time decorating her room, it had walls of different colours, fibre optic lights she’d bought when they were on clearance after Christmas, and two mirrors so she could see the front and the back of her hair. I told her she should send a photo of it to Teenage Bedrooms.
When the workshop was over I retrieved my bags from the secret office room and went to say hello to Tim, my friend who works at the library in another, smaller, secret office area. He had promised to show me “the robot”, which is connected to the book return chute downstairs. I know that a robot doesn’t need to be humanoid but I had pictured a contraption rather like Metal Mickey (the robot from a particularly bad 80s tv show for kids).
We went down the stairs and into another secret room behind the front desk. The robot was series of panels which, when a book was returned through the chute, moved the book along until it was in the correct position for the panel to flip up and deposit the book into a container. A number of people were working in this room with the robot, and they seemed happy to have some visitors. They showed me the robot’s tricks for a minute or so and explained its back-saving oh&s advantages. We left them to their work and went out, pausing to chat by the portrait of Max Webber, not the social theorist but the Blacktown Town Clerk for whom the library was named. The portrait had been faded by the sun, and we imagined it fading more and more, until all you could see was his eyes. We stared at the portrait for a moment in silence, then Tim retreated to his secret office and I went out into the sun, which beamed down strongly and threatened to fade me, too.