Biblioburbia: The Library Files documents my explorations of Sydney’s public libraries.
It’s a project that comes from my lifelong love of books, reading, and writing, as well as my love of Sydney’s suburbs and my interest in public spaces. Libraries, like op shops, are spaces you can inhabit without needing much money, and they are places where you can browse and discover things by chance. They are public spaces, but can also be quite personal spaces.
In particular I am interested in libraries built in the 1960s – 1980s, as most of the libraries of significance to me were built in this era. While I love them, these libraries won’t be around forever, especially as the suburbs of Sydney are further developed. The dank old Marion St Leichhardt Library was replaced by a bright, new library inside the Italian Forum development, for example. While the new library is undeniably an improvement, my relationship with it is far more functional than it was with the old library. This relationship was built on my memories of libraries as places that are a bit dim and cluttered, that are retreats from the outside world.
I am going to explore my own relationships to libraries as well as document Sydney’s libraries as I find them: the buildings, the people who use the library, the things I find there, and their link to the suburb in which they are located.
The precursor for this project is my Vinnies zine, which I made in 1999. In this zine I travelled to all the St Vincent de Paul op shops in Sydney, and wrote about my experiences in the stores and the things that I found in them. The process involved taking photographs with a 35mm camera, travelling on trains and buses, relying on hand-drawn maps in a small notebook, writing up my experiences in a larger notebook, and putting the whole thing together as a zine. I was working off a list of Vinnies stores that I looked up in the White Pages – the list is stuck in the zine, with each store ticked off.
All this work is much easier with a blog – a blog is more suited to this kind of project. A few Sydney projects that have a similar cataloguing/exploring focus are 52 Suburbs and Pool Lady. These sorts of suburban explorations are a way for people to engage with their city in a way that goes beyond their everyday lives and routines. By setting a challenge, the projects have structure, but also there are all sorts of twists and turns they can take, as they are directed by surprise and chance. When I made my Vinnies zine, my readers undertook the whole journey with me in one go, but now we can follow people as they explore the city, and correspond with them along the way.
This project is part of my work for the CAL Western Sydney Writers Fellowship.