No Photos (of libraries past)

When I was creating the map for my exhibition, a large part of the process was drawing each library. I drew the libraries from photos. If I had known from the start of the project I would be doing this then I would have taken more suitable photographs of the full buildings, rather than details. In most cases I had a photo I could work with, but when I didn’t have the image I wanted I searched Google images for additional photos of the libraries. The results generally featured mostly my own photographs from Biblioburbia, and sometimes the tiny jpegs that were on council websites on “branches and opening hours” pages. It was then I realised that people don’t take photographs of libraries.

I was surprised that even in this world of online documentation that it was so hard to find photographs of suburban libraries. Newer buildings were easier to find, with the documentation and press associated with their construction and opening. Older libraries are rarely photographed. The reason for this is perhaps that libraries are functional buildings, and the many branch libraries that were built in the 60s and 70s were plain brick buildings, though not without their own charm.

Apart from the Old Library cafe in Cronulla, throughout my explorations I found no trace of libraries past. They are most often demolished and replaced by the new library, or a new development when the library is relocated: what can you do with an old library?

Finding traces of libraries long gone is like finding buried treasure. This week I found an image of the old Max Webber library in Blacktown, in The Mural Manual by David Humphries and Rodney Monk.

This is the Max Webber Library (opened 2005) today:

Max Webber has grown up! It is like it has ditched the overalls and put on a suit.

I was excited to find the image of this old library, because they are rare, at least as far as the average person searching online is concerned. One of my interests and concerns is the glut of information we have about present day experience, and the trivialisation of the past as merely “nostalgia” or “retro”.  In my opinion the best use of the internet, behind all the animated gifs and status updates, is to archive our personal histories, to reconstruct the past in order to draw together the pre-digital and digital worlds.



Filed under Western Sydney

5 responses to “No Photos (of libraries past)

  1. What a wonderful story! I remember Blacktown library when it was still located in the “recycled supermarket” and frequented it back then as I do now in it’s current location. Brings back such fond memories.
    Would it be ok if I use some of the info from your blog?

    • Vanessa Berry

      I imagine the “recycled supermarket” is no longer there – I don’t know Blacktown well but I can’t recall seeing a mural with a person lifting up a Volkswagen.
      You can use info from my blog, sure: attribute the image and information about the old library to “The Mural Manual” and the rest is me… What are you going to do with it?

      • Oh thank you! I am currently doing a BA in Librarianship and did my Library Visit as well as practicum at Blacktown Library. I was thinking of using your pics and some of the info you found on the old library in my Library Visit report.

  2. I have so many fond memories of the old Max Webber library. That curving painted tunnel was like a magical portal to the castle of books, as many books as I could carry. It had a rubber floor, the kind with raised round dots to provide grip. To my small feet the dots were enormous and strange and provided a reason to run, as fast as I could.

  3. Vanessa Berry

    It does look quite magical in the photos. I imagine that rather than be demolished the building took off into the sky like a huge inflatable castle.

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