Category Archives: Inner Western Sydney

Earlwood Library (volcanoes)

Earlwood library is a red brick building on the high side of the intersection of three main roads. Earlwood is the point in the inner western suburbs when the car becomes the dominant form of transport. Cars race through Homer Street as if something very urgent is awaiting them.  From inside the library the roar of traffic can constantly be heard.

The library is a 1950s red brick building situated on a wedge of land, with an early childhood health centre at the very tip of the intersection. In front of the entrance is an uninviting fenced courtyard with wire benches and a view over the intersection and shops of Homer Street below (many old advertisements for photo processing, a diving smelling Continental cake shop, a bottle shop with a big bottle of Retsina painted on the front window).

No one was using this unappealing perch, despite the view. Just inside the entrance to the library was a row of plaques commemorating local authors, a detail I have seen at no other Sydney library. The Earlwood authors are Nadia Wheatly, Debra Adelaide, Joan Dugdale and Leslie Haylen, and each plaque had a quote and a date in 1999 on it, perhaps when the plaques were unveiled.

At the back of Earlwood library is a Viking ship, with a shiny gold eye, and striped sail. As I wandered around it seemed to watch me. It was an after school kind of time, and the only people in the library were school students. A girl with a huge pile of lever arch folders, so many I couldn’t imagine her carrying them in a schoolbag, eating tabbouleh from a plastic container and reading her notes. A girl using one of the computers, taking notes on her arm with a felt tip pen. Her arm already had a lot of notes on it, but she continued to write. I thought of offering her some paper but only had a tiny notebook. Around the corner from the arm notes girl was a boy sitting in a corner reading a book called “Storm of Swords”.

Affixed to a cupboard door was a laminated poster of a man smiling and holding a book, with the background of a galaxy in deep space. Down one side was the legend READ. I looked from the poster to the man behind the desk – it was the same guy. I like the idea of DIY literacy posters.

Around the corner was another poster encouraging people to read. This one was in the teen area, and a little more polished than George in Space. Who do you find more compelling?

On the top of the non fiction shelves was a large book about volcanoes, Earth on Fire. It was a big, heavy book with a photograph of hot lava showing through the cracks in a black landscape. I don’t know if Earth on Fire was usually shelved up there, but I took it down for further investigation. It is hard to believe that the world contains all these volcanoes and geysers, black sand beaches, smoking craters and strangely coloured lakes. Mutnovsky Volcano! The Grand Prismatic Spring! Some of the photographs of the brighter volcanic lakes made me feel as if I was hallucinating.


Behind the Morning Glory Pool in this photo is the Valley Times, which this week had a cover story about the 2012 Premier’s Spelling Bee. The local student pictured on the front just missed out on the title of Senior State Champion because she incorrectly spelled the word “rhododendron”. She will hate rhododendrons for the rest of her life! I wondered about her being pictured in a thoughtful pose under the word, as she probably relives the moment of misspelling that word with mortification.

I returned Earth on Fire to its spot on top of the shelf. On the way there I could see that the arm notes girl had stopped taking notes and was now looking at positions vacant on the McDonalds website. On the wall above the computers where she was sitting was a framed painting of the Earlwood tram terminus. Though trams stopped running in 1957, they are a ghost presence in Earlwood, the terminus is marked on the street corner, where there is now the Senior Citizens Centre.

Across from the the once-tram terminus and the library is a small, sedate park, with lawn and benches, however the peaceful ambience is ruptured somewhat by a warning sign.

There may not be volcanoes in Earlwood, but that doesn’t mean it is safe.




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Haberfield (pastels)

Haberfield Library is inside the Haberfield Centre, entered through a series of automatic doors. The first set of automatic doors swing, rather than slide open, an action which is rather ghostly, as if two invisible footmen have swept open the doors upon seeing you approach.

It was a Monday morning, and the library had been open for less than an hour. The librarian at the front desk was sipping from a mug (I hoped it was a library-themed mug: “Old Librarians Never Die They Just Check Out”, but it was the kind of floral/abstract patterned mug normally found in workplace kitchens) and I greeted her as I entered.  The desk was directly opposite the entrance, so it would have felt rude not to.

The library once must have been a hall, as it had lofty ceilings and an elevated stage area at one end, which was now the children’s book section. The walls were painted a pale pink with blue trim and this colour scheme, coupled with the sense of hush prevailing in the library, gave it a peaceful ambience. There were a few people here and there, a Justice of the Peace was set up at one of the tables with a pile of papers and a series of rubber stamps, waiting for people to get documents certified; a few men were browsing the shelves. I sat at a table which had a fresh copy of the Sydney Morning Herald on it and I opened it up to read the front page. I had only skimmed over the headlines and half read an article about cycleways when my attention was drawn towards the biography section, and I got up to investigate it. It was a good thing I had: about 30 seconds later a man entered the library and moved with great speed towards the newspaper on the table. He was a classic newspaper man, wearing a cap and glasses, and he proceeded to read every page thoroughly. I don’t like to think what might have happened if he’d come in and discovered me reading the paper that was rightfully his.

Haberfield and Ashfield libraries, libraries which are in the same “family”, both have a large biography section. I don’t read many biographies but I do like biography sections in libraries, because you can a play a version of one of those games where you have to list what famous people you’d invite to a dinner party. Except rather than your carefully chosen list of heroes, you have to have dinner with the people who appear on the shelves in alphabetical order. So here, for example, if you choose P, you will have to have dinner with Cole Porter, Beatrix Potter, Prince, and Marcel Proust, among others.

Other games that you can play with the biography section include, for the narcissistic, working out where your biography would appear on the shelf, or just reviewing who has had their biography written. Sometimes it’s surprising. Dr Harry Cooper has a biography. So does Kiefer Sutherland.

The biography section was popular, even though there were few people in the library there were two earnest browsers, a woman clutching a biography of Kathryn Hepburn (I wonder if she knows about Kathryn Hepburn’s brownie recipe, or as I call them, the Hepbrownies?) and a man slowly making his way through the shelves from a (ABBA) to Z (“How Murderball Saved My Life” by Mark Zuppa).

After looking through the biographies for a while and imagining unlikely dinner parties, I looked around the library further. At either side of the ‘stage’ were plaster Greek goddesses, presiding over the racks of CDs and shelves of children’s books. It was their presence and the high ceilings which gave the library its sense of peace and order, I think. When library architecture more resembles a shopping mall, people are much noisier. I moved to the magazine area and sat near a woman reading the Italian newspaper La Fiamma. I had a  book about 21st century sound art I had discovered on a shelf next to a book about art deco design, one of those books I assumed is the only one about its topic and thus marooned on the shelf, although it could have just been in the wrong place. Now there are certain stereotypes about sound art, and when I opened the book at a random page and was confronted with a two page spread of a man screaming into a microphone, wearing a raw slab of meat on the top half of his head, these stereotypes were not dispelled. I quickly turned the page so the nonna reading La Fiamma wouldn’t see, not that she was looking.

By now a few more people had entered the library, although all of them, even the children, spoke in whispers. Haberfield must be the quietest library I have visited for some time, although maybe it was just the time of day. It was nice sitting in the magazine section, with sun coming in from the windows. I closed the sound art book and looked around, noticing an unusual framed picture behind the magazine racks:

There was a strange melange of symbols in the Book Feast poster: the monk chewing on the book with an avid expression and a row of savage white teeth. I would like to see an exhibition that collected together library/reading initiative posters. I have come across a few while writing Biblioburbia, the Muppets themed one in Avalon library, “Destination Information” at Engadine.  Book Feast was the first that encouraged actually chewing on the books, but people do conflate eating and reading, saying they “devoured” a particularly interesting book. And there are often crumbs to be found inside library books.

Before I left Haberfield library I had a look at the rack of 50c book sale books near the entrance. There was a good selection of them but one stood out to me in particular: “Behind the Lines” by J.T. Wilson. His name was familiar…why? When I pulled out the book, I remembered.

Anyone who hung around in Newtown about ten years ago would have come across J.T. Wilson, who set up his ad-hoc short story stall on King St and could often be seen exactly as pictured on the front of his book. “New Stories, All Written in Newtown!” Though I had passed by J.T. Wilson many a time, I had never read one of his stories – here was my chance, and so this book was my souvenir from Haberfield Library.

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Leichhardt Library (dusting)

Leichhardt library is located in the Italian Forum, one of Sydney’s most bemusing tourist destinations. Every time I cross the Forum – which is an Italian-style square with restaurants all around it and apartments above – there are groups of tourists, standing, unsure what to do with themselves. Some take photos, others just stare, and probably wonder why on earth this place was listed in their guidebook.

At night time the Forum picks up a bit, but it is ghostly in the daytime, and has been so consistently the many times I’ve passed through it. Leichhardt library was my local library for years, a five minute walk from my house. I’d go there often, and every day in summer, to work away on things.

I used to visit the previous Leichhardt library too, which was off Marion st, a somewhat damp and dingy building with the atmosphere of a dark, book-lined maze. It moved from there when the Forum was built, and despite the large sign (shown here with some bored tourists), the library itself is poked into a corner, next to a ramp to the Norton St level, and on the way to the toilets.

As unpleasant as this sounds, the library itself is a haven of refreshingly cold air conditioning and, as it runs down one side of the Forum, is lined by windows and full of light. The windows must be double glazed, as you can see the planes flying low overhead but not hear them. This was another reason I would leave my house and come here, to escape the regular planes that shook my house as they screamed in to land.

As with any place one visits regularly, I got to recognise all of the staff and develop favourites. When walking there I’d wonder if I’d get the guy with the beard, or the pink haired girl, the serious man with the shifty look, or the woman who always wears the white cotton gloves. Would I get the woman who once detained me for fifteen minutes, blaming me for a cataloguing error for some Werner Herzog documentaries? I hoped not.

I returned the books I’d read over Christmas, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño and Reading by Moonlight by Brenda Walker. I had intended to read Great Expectations but then got caught up in the Bolaño, which was long enough to take me a good month to read. At first I wasn’t sure about it, did I really want to read the story of a young, male poet’s sexual awakening? But the book quickly diverged from that tack, and I felt pleasantly lost in it. I’d invested a lot of time in the Bolaño, I was a bit sad to return it. It was immediately claimed by the serious man, who was on the other side of the return chutes.

Closest to the front desk is the magazines and newspapers, and a long, red seat on which people were sitting reading. A girl in a black dress and cloven-hoof shoes sat reading an issue of Wallpaper, while I stared at the cover of TIME magazine, which had a cover with “2012 User’s Guide – Everything You Need to Know about the Year Ahead” on it. I felt like I should pick it up, but I didn’t. I will go blindly into this year.

The busiest part of Leichhardt library is around the centre, where the DVDs are. The library has an excellent collection of DVDs, with lots of horror films that are hard to find, so Simon tells me. There are always a few people browsing in this section, no matter how quiet the library is. Today a man with a scar on his cheek clasped a copy of Vincent, while he looked through the racks for more movies. Vincent van Gogh looked sadly out at me above the man’s hand.

While the DVD section is good, I usually only glance over the DVDs on display. I will more often flip through the CDs though, which, while not being quite as comprehensive as the DVDs, can sometimes have something interesting. My attention was drawn towards this explosive bear cover art:

I’ve not heard of the band, and it was hard to imagine what a CD with this on the front would sound like, beyond explosive.

The CDs are near the information desk, where you are sent when your card expires, when you have a complex enquiry, or when you’re in trouble. On the other side of this desk is the screen where you book a computer to use the internet, and there is usually someone standing there frowning at it. The computers are in a glass-walled room which has the miserable atmosphere of any public internet terminal. Sometimes there are classes for seniors and I like to look in at them learning how to use Word, or to send an email.

I was on my way to visit my own book, which is part of the library’s collection. When I was younger, and long before I had a book published I would imagine the book I might write on the shelf and the books it would be next to. I assumed I’d write a novel, so I imagined myself in the B’s, rather than the 920s, in between a book about Johnny Cash and Twentieth Century Women of Courage. I could tell that the most read story in my book was the one about the Olympia Milk Bar, as the book opened to it straight away and there were stains on the page, tea stains perhaps. I stopped examining my own book and put it back on the shelf. I perhaps could have been worried someone I know was going to come along and catch me at it, but in the years I’ve been visiting Leichhardt library I have never once see anyone I know in there.

When I emerged at the other end of the shelves, near the windows, I noticed two people working on the indoor plants. They were dressed in identical jeans and blue shirts and were briskly watering, trimming and dusting the indoor palms. This caught my fancy and I sat and watched them work. The man was the faster of the two, flicking a feather duster over the leaves of one plant while the woman watered another and checked some kind of monitor poked into the soil. She smiled at me when she saw me looking. Perhaps she had seen the book I was holding. I’d picked it up just before I sat down. Grow Your Own Drugs is of course not what you would first suspect, it is how to grow and use medicinal plants, how to make hair rinse out of nettles and cholesterol lowering concoctions using hawthorn berries. Of course I will make none of these, but I like the idea that I might.

As I sat there, a tough little girl stomped past. She would have been about 4 years old, and had short cropped hair and a gold Christmas bauble on a green string around her neck. Rather than look cute, it looked tough, like she was daring you to say she looked ridiculous. She stomped down to the kid’s section at the back of the library and started to boss around a giant teddy bear that was slumped against the wall.

I decided I’d borrow Grow Your Own Drugs. I liked the idea of perusing herbal potions at home. I’ve been to so many libraries for Biblioburbia that I haven’t been a member of I almost forgot I could borrow items from Leichhardt. On my way out I looked over the new books, as I always do, hoping to find something interesting. I don’t have much luck with this section, though:

The self check machine that has been out of order for years had finally been removed, and replaced with a stack of local papers. I don’t like going up to the counter, for fear of fines. Even if you owe 50c you are seriously informed of your debt here, with the suggestion of payment hovering like a cloud. The serious man checked my card and I had a feeling of nervousness, like I was at the doctors awaiting results of a test. I’m usually pretty good with library fines but I resent paying them. This time I was in the clear, and was allowed to borrow my book.

I went out the back way, rather than through the Forum, which is down the alleyway that runs behind Parramatta Rd. There is an old sign above a carport here for the Riviera Coffee Lounge, a secret message I always look for.


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Ashfield Library (Storytime)

This is the third incarnation of Ashfield library I have visited. The first was the old library, a long rectangular space which was always busy with people reading. Then this one was closed for renovations, and the library was moved to a temporary site in the basement of the same building. This was an uninspiring little cave, which was no less popular, and thus always unpleasantly crowded. After some time down here the library moved back to its previous, expanded and renovated, position.

It is still accessed by the same dingy walkway, which a man was cleaning with a broom, pushing the pools of rainwater into the drain. I’d just come from the shopping centre, in which I was in search of the post office, and thus was in a high state of irritation. Post offices, like other important places like libraries, are more and more often being incorporated into shopping centres. As a person who will avoid shopping centres unless I absolutely have to go into one, this development dismays me, although it makes sense to put things people need where people congregate.

The Ashfield library isn’t in the shopping centre, but it is adjacent to it in the Civic Centre, as this rather unimpressive photo reveals. It was a rainy day so any urban environment immediately turns drab and white-skied when captured in a photo.

The library is on the middle level, with the black frame.

I was excited to enter the new library, the entrance to which has a kind of nightclub feel to it. At a glowing red wall you can return and check out books, or visit the solitary indoor plant. I paused, a bit disoriented by the dim, red light, not knowing which way to turn. I noticed that I’d come at storytime, and a lot of noise came from the kids area in front of me, including a raucous “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”. I was not clapping my hands.

The current thinking in library architecture is to have an open plan, with lots of natural light and low shelves. Ashfield library follows this design, and is an improvement, space-wise at least, on the previous one. There are two rooms, one a meeting room and one a reference room, and apart from this the rest of the library space is open, with nooks here and there for different sections of books, science fiction, Australian fiction, graphic novels, and my favourite, “The Digital Life”.

Had I the power to redesign the library, I would have put a door on the kid’s section, because it was almost unbearably noisy in there. Kids want to make noise, and why wouldn’t you if you could get away with screaming your lungs out? The combined sound of singing, screaming, and babbling filled the library, which was unfortunately coupled with the sounds of construction, drilling and hammering, from the building next door. I thought longingly of my quiet house, and sadly of my drowned iPod (although I don’t think you should have to rely on such things to drown out other noise) but decided to make the best of it, and went to look at the classics section.

I have decided to read some Dickens over the summer. Most summers I choose a classic author to investigate, and this year Dickens has come up often enough for me to feel guided towards him. I haven’t read any Dickens before, though I’ve read a lot of classic literature. When I was in high school I was happy that I was in the class that didn’t have to read David Copperfield. To my relief we studied Jane Eyre instead. I looked at the huge doorstop of a book that my friends in the other class carried around and feel glad I didn’t have to make my way through it. Contrary to what one might think, with me being a writer now and all, I didn’t particularly enjoy English in high school, and I had no particularly inspiring teachers who fostered my love of words, apart from the one teacher who put me on to Sylvia Plath. My early investigations into literature were sparked by references in pop songs, so I read whatever Robert Smith was reading, and I learnt to write by making zines.

Dickens novels are the kind of texts I imagine one reads on one’s e-reader, but I am still at the Penguin Classics edition level of technology. Approaching the Classics section, I appreciated the sombre colours of book spines, nothing like the lurid rainbow of the general fiction. It is particularly satisfying to read a Classic edition, rather than a brightly coloured book with embossed title and splashy quotes all over it. It is the equivalent of eating a small, simple salad while the person across from you slavers over a burger. One feels very pure reading a classic book; I am always impressed when I see someone reading one on the train, for example.

I picked out David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby, and sat down on the purple couch nearby. The classic books are next to the Australian fiction, which, like all of the shelves in Ashfield Library, has a display shelf along the top for the more enticing titles. I stared briefly at one called “88 Lines about 44 Women”, which was not an enticing title, at least to me. I imagined the author meeting a woman and telling her the title of his book, and the many ways the conversation could progress.

Back to Dickens. I picked up David Copperfield and closed my eyes for a moment, concentrating. The sound of someone running in high heels disturbed my focus and I looked up to see a woman run past me, through a door into the secret librarian room, and then emerge a few seconds later with a UHU glue stick. Adhesive Emergency!

Dickens again. I would choose which book I would read based on what it said on the page I opened it at. I fluttered the pages for a while, until I felt like it was the right moment, then opened the book:

Paragon of the perpetual measles and teaspoon stealing!

I went through the same process with Nicholas Nickleby:
Confidential intercourse about coin-eating!

It was hard to choose but I had a better feeling about Nicholas Nickleby. I wasn’t going to borrow it from the library, though, it would take too long to read and there is a satisfaction in taking a new classic book from its pristine state to a somewhat battered one, after it has been your companion for months. I looked back on the shelf and saw that the most read of the Dickens’ was Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities. My next competition, once I had got through Nicholas Nickleby, would be between these. Decision made, I put the books back on the shelf and went to stroll around the library.

At every library I’ve been to since Rockdale, I’ve seen the same Rolling Stone with Lady Gaga on the front, prominently placed in the magazine section. In the Rockdale post I compared this cover to the Courtney Love cover from the 90s that I’d bought from an op shop, and now a surprising number of people find my blog searching “courtney love rolling stone” (surely even more will find it now). Sometimes I wonder who these people are and what they are after. Are they reminiscing? Are they Courtney fans? Are they doing a school project on the 90s?

Next to Gaga and the magazines was the photocopier, and I remembered that I had in fact brought something to photocopy with me. This copier still has the coin machine attached to it, so I didn’t have to fiddle around buying a copy card, something I resent doing (it is NOT easier). I inserted my coins and pressed the green button. My copy, though, came out very light at the edges, too light to be useful. I stood looking at it, wondering if I should bring it to the librarian’s attention. I’m not usually the kind of person to make complaints, but it was not a complaint, exactly, more an enquiry. I should have asked the librarian which Dickens to read, that would have been more interesting. But no, I trotted over to the desk with my too light copy and waited for someone to serve me. There were three librarians there, one on the phone, another doing something in a drawer with great urgency, and another staring into a computer screen with unbreakable attention. Was this one of those occasions where a small cough might help? The woman on the phone held up her finger in a “one moment” gesture.

After a few minutes her call ended and I explained my light photocopy. After we established I knew how to use a photocopier, yet might not have pressed down on the lid while the machine scanned the book, she got the magic key out of the drawer and said she would give me another copy for free. To someone who spends a lot of time photocopying, the magic key is the stuff of dreams. We repeated the photocopy, this time applying some pressure to the photocopier lid, and it worked better. I had my photocopy, she had the pleasure of having her suspicions confirmed. She took the magic key away and I thought about how, to a zine maker, you don’t dream about the key to the city, you dream about they key to the photocopier.

Most of the bookshelves are in the centre of the library, and couches and desks are in nooks that face onto the street. I wandered past these, hoping to find somewhere to sit down, but each was occupied. In one area was a man reading the Coles catalogue, and another man who had a book open but was asleep. In the next area a woman had spread her notes all across the table. She had the book Commonsense Vegetarian alongside her notebooks and highlighters, but I don’t think that was what she was studying. I imagined the Commonsense Vegetarian a little like the business “Realistic Real Estate”, which I often travel past. Commonsense Vegetarian would give you down to earth advice as well as recipes:
Now a lot of people are going to give you shit for being a vegetarian. They will offer you steak, they will brag about eating monkey brains, they will interrogate you as to your reasons. The important thing here is not to lose your cool, even though you have heard this many times before. You might like to ask them why it means so much to them, or just fix them with a withering glance and go onto another topic of conversation. Do not give them the satisfaction of argument.

In the next alcove, the most secluded one, was a couple tickling each other. Although there were spare seats at that desk, as there had been at the Commonsense Vegetarian’s table, both areas seemed fully occupied. In the next seating area was a man who had taken off his shoes and was sitting with his laptop on his lap and his arm draped across the seat next to him. Someone must have done a study about how many seats a person takes up with their presence. In Ashfield library it was about 3 -6. Apart from having to encroach on someone’s space, it was so noisy with kids and drills that it would be impossible to concentrate on much anyway.

I decided to visit the Reference room, which was closed off from the rest of the library by a door. I could see individuals working silently at the two long tables, and this seemed like the place for the noise-sensitive library user. It was quiet in there, the only space with the traditional library hush of air conditioners, the shuffle of papers, the zip of a pencilcase, the tap of fingers on a keyboard. I got out my papers and investigated them for a while, sneaking glances at the people across from me. One girl was set up for studying with endless notebooks, a packet of dark chocolate Tim Tams, and milky tea in a 500ml bottle. She was studying something that involved a lot of graphs. I wanted to wait until she ate a Tim Tam before I left, but she was annoyed that I kept looking up to see if she was reaching for the packet, poor thing. As well as her there were plenty of people on laptops, silently tapping away, and a woman with her shopping bags around her, reading a romance novel.

After a little while I went out into the noisy main section of the library again, to browse the non-fiction books. There were a lot of big books about Dickens, one even bigger than any of Dickens’ novels. This was getting ahead of myself, though. I moved on to the science section, books about sand, books about taxidermy…

Then, in the fashion section, I picked up the book version of the blog My Mom the Style Icon by Piper Weiss. A collection of photographs of people’s groovy moms, my favourite was this wedding portrait:

In the event of me having a wedding, an occasion which even the thought of has me reaching for the Rescue Remedy, I would like to have photos like this. Although I could just re-enact it at home without the need for all the rest of it.

Looking through this book I pondered this particular style of authorship. The author, in a curatorial role, sets up a blog based on an idea, people submit their own stories, photographs, and ephemera and it gets published as a book. In this case the blog is a way to collect information and images of a time before the internet. We’re in an age of archiving and digitising, and this will one day pass. I’m curious about what life will be like when all this archiving and digitising slows down; when all the mom photos, for example, have been scanned. Already we can visit our past through the pasts of others. Although I knew none of the women pictured in the book, the photos were familiar to me. My family has the same kinds of photographs in its history. I have photos of my mother looking stylish in the 60s, but I’m not sure I’d submit any to My Mom the Style Icon, having read the legal rights this gives the blog author: they can do whatever they want with the image of my mum, in any medium including ones yet to be invented, forever. This is probably a standard agreement, but it gives me the creeps.

With all the heavy thinking out of the way, I could now relax and browse through the photos of everyone’s groovy mid-century mothers. I was sitting facing out onto Liverpool Rd, and could see two people with clipboards trying to entice passers-by without success on the street below. I watched this for a while, the book open on my lap. Storytime had finished and now it was now well and truly Screamingtime. Kids were having a fabulous time racing around the open spaces of the library, and I wished I was five years old so I could enjoy it too. But my days of this are back in an era when my mum would have qualified as a style icon. I put the book back on the shelf and decided to go back to the peace and quiet of my house.

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Burwood Library (Fingernails)

Although I have been to Burwood plenty of times, I didn’t know there was a library there. Partly this is because it is tucked away in a side street beside the train line, and partly because my journeys there are usually focussed on other things, like the Vinnies. Burwood Vinnies used to be one of my favourites but then was cleaned up and became much less interesting. Imagine my joy to discover that it had cluttered up again! This sometimes happens a few years after an op shop gets tidied.

In order to browse, you need a certain amount of clutter. This applies to op shops and libraries equally. “Clutter” doesn’t have to mean mess, although in an op shop I’m not averse to a bit of mess. Libraries are by nature ordered places, but the ones I like best have lots of books of different types and from different times, where if you look, you will find something unexpected.

In the Vinnies I found a different kind of book altogether:

From the ‘drunk against the lamppost’ era of bar kitsch (70s and before), I wonder if this ceramic book was ever actually filled with whiskey. It would fit about half a bottle but I struggled to imagine someone pouring a drink from it. This made me resolve to use it next time I have people over for dinner, to pull it out from the shelf after dessert and collect the laughs. I paid $1 for “Bright Spirit” and watched the old lady, who to my surprise had long fingernails painted black, wrap it carefully in pages of the Good Weekend with Rove’s face on them.

The street that leads to the library runs alongside the train line on the other side of the station to the op shop. I passed the Police Citizens Youth Club, a building which looked deserted.

The two big terracotta pots growing weeds on the awning, the holes in the plaster where a sign had once been, all suggested that the building was no longer in use. On closer inspection it was still functioning, with signs for various martial arts out the front.

I could see the library up ahead, on the corner of Marmaduke St. As someone who takes particular interest in street names, I approved of Marmaduke St. I’d also read, in one of those useless pieces of trivia that stick no matter how much you’d rather forget them and replace them with something more erudite, that Bear Grylls has a son named Marmaduke. Marmaduke Grylls. I imagine him growing up to be the opposite of his father, a terrible cad and lush.

Burwood library is a 1950s brick building with a garden out the front, and a noticeboard like primary schools and churches often have. Unfortunately on the day I was there it was blank. I would have liked it to have had messages about reading, like churches have about Jesus. Before I went into the library I sat in the garden on one of the benches, enjoying being in a different corner of a familiar suburb. As I sat there a black cat with white paws padded up to me, stopped, and regarded me with curiousity. “Hello,” I said, and half expected it to answer me. It stayed quiet, and sat beside me licking a paw. Was this the library cat? I hoped so.

At the entrance was the sad sight of the closed after hours returns chute:

Further signs greeted me at the entrance: bags can be brought into the library as long as they’re presented for inspection, there are limited powerpoints for laptops and only ones in the study area can be used, you can only use the blue payphone mounted on the wall for 3 minutes. Libraries are thoroughly mapped out with signs. Some are stern, some encouraging. These made me wonder about the vandalising and thieving citizens of Burwood, who want to make long telephone calls.

The first person I noticed in the library was a librarian wearing an amazing pair of spectacles, huge 80s frames with decorative wings on the sides. I didn’t think anyone still wore glasses like this unless going to a fancy dress party (or maybe is a hipster taking things too far). The librarian was talking to a man who she had just come back from searching the shelves with and said “the magic eyes don’t always see everything”. Assisted by such glasses, what eyes wouldn’t be magic?

Burwood library is the central and only library in this council area, although looking at the labels in old books I saw that it once had branches at Drummoyne and Five Dock. Various plaques were embedded in the walls, commemorating where the library had been added to over the years. I have noted the plaques at every library I have visited, and I like how here they showed how the library has changed over time.

The building was old, but not in an oppressive way. The books were over two levels, the upper level with books around the edge of the room, accessed by a wood panel lined balcony. This design gives the room height; I have realised that high ceilings are good for libraries, they combat the claustrophobia that can result from row upon row of bookshelves.

I sat at one of the desks near the librarians, observing the people reading newspapers. There was of course a newspaper man, reading through the Sydney Morning Herald, wearing slippers, as if he were in his own living room. A number of other people were reading the Chinese newspapers, including a man sitting at the other side of the table I was using. I watched him reading the lines of characters which to me are unintelligible, trying to imagine what it would be like to understand them.

Another popular area of the library was the kids section, which had little green bucket chairs to sit on. It wasn’t being used by kids, though, at every one of the low tables an adult was sitting, appearing slightly stunted from the lower than usual seat. At a few of the desks were teenagers studying, but older people were sitting at them too, among the kids books and chirpy posters encouraging reading.

Of all campaigns I have noticed to encourage children to use libraries, this is my favourite. Having a job where I teach groups of students who sometimes amaze me with their lack of curiousity, I often reflect upon how there is a strong link between curiousity and creativity. Get excited! Be Curious! The internet is curiousity’s best friend and worst enemy. You can look up anything you want, yet the very fact of its accessibility makes you less likely to engage with it, a kind of easy come, easy go sort of phenomena, where you only engage with things on a surface level.

Behind me was a folding partition with book reviews from newspapers pinned onto it. These articles had been cut out and glued to red cardboard. I like evidence of craft in the workplace. I remember once going into a branch of the Commonwealth Bank to find it had been decorated with glittery homemade cardboard signs advertising some kind of home loan deal. I liked imagining the staff in some office out the back, with scissors and cardboard, making signs for something so financially significant as home loans.

On the other side of the partition were shelves of non-fiction books, books in languages other than English, and magazines. I looked around these shelves for a while, searching for nothing in particular. Sitting beside one of the rows of books was a book called Growing up in the 50s. This library didn’t seem to have a librarian whose job it was to maintain shelf order (usually with a kind of obsessive dedication, based on my observations at other libraries – or maybe it’s the job you do when there’s nothing else to do?) so there were quite a few books sitting out abandoned like this. I hoped there was a whole series of “Growing up in the…” books, Growing up in the 90s, for example, but there didn’t seem to be.

I was happy to notice that Burwood library has quite a lot of old books, sometimes surprisingly old, like these collections of plays:

I went upstairs to look at the rest of the non-fiction books, which are arranged around the perimeter of the room. From up here I could look down on the library below me:

As I investigated a section of books about technology and the future, a girl squeezed past me with a whispered “sorry”. I thought about her whisper, and how, in recent articles about libraries, much has been made of their atmosphere, and whether the “shhh it’s the library” idea is something that attracts or repels people. For a while the Librarian Action Figure (based on a real librarian!) was much-mentioned in these articles, a kind of light relief to the more serious issues being discussed. Don’t people come to libraries because it’s quiet, though? This is a part of the argument that confuses me: surely libraries are primarily places to do quiet activities? I don’t come to libraries to talk. In fact I think it’s good to have places where people don’t blabber their life stories into their phones and have the kinds of conversations you want to send in to the paper because they’re so stupid.

To the side of the non-fiction section is a study area, full of students at desks, surrounded by books. Even though it was Tuesday morning there were a lot of students there, perhaps because the HSC trial exams are soon – I know this only because of the “collar bomb” story. The desks were arranged around the centre of the room, which was open to the level below it, the fiction section. On a thin panel above the desks was a strip of wall that had many pen scribbles on it, the kinds of things students write on desks, obscenities, pictures of genitals and “for a good time call…”. It has been a long time since I wrote anything on a desk. I remember going through a phase of drawing a round face with a big nose (self portrait?) on every desk I used in Year 7 to see how many I used in a term; I’m not sure if I saw the experiment through.

I headed back downstairs to the kids area with the little green chairs. They were indeed comfortable despite their size, and I set myself up at a table with the books I’d picked out from the shelves. Near me, a teenage boy and girl were studying, although they kept getting up and going outside, leaving all their books spread out on the desks and their bags underneath it. They must be very trusting or hoping someone would steal their homework.

As I sat reading through An Optimists Tour of the Future, trying to find out if indeed our brains will become one with the internet (my greatest fear for the future after reading science fiction books in which this happens), I noticed a woman enter the library. She was wearing a tartan jacket, tiny denim shorts over black tights, black pvc sneakers with 4 inch platforms, a diamante tiara and matching diamante choker, and what was obviously a wig of curly brown hair. The wig-hair looked stiff and plasticky, and I noticed that the choker did indeed seem to be cutting into her neck. She tottered around on her high shoes, looking for a place to set up. She was carrying two large bags, one black pvc like her shoes, the other tartan like her jacket. Although she was dressed so meticulously, the overall effect was very odd. I was pleased when she sat in the same area as me, and I kept casting looks back to see what she was doing.

The book about the future didn’t seem too optimistic to me, as I read about “Grey Goo” and how the world could be “overtaken, eaten up by trillions of tiny mechanical robots” that replicate at too fast a rate to be stopped. I glanced back to the strange woman as I heard a lot of jingling coming from behind me. She had a set of keys on a keyring with a toy in the shape of a piece of toast. I too have a toast keyring, although mine is of the replica food variety and hers was squishy like one that Simon has:

Simon's Toast, with face. Vanessa's toast, with butter.

When I next glanced back, as the jangling continued, I saw that she had a large number of these toast keyrings, as well as donut keyrings of the same type. She was working on the part of them that has the keychain attached to it with an unpicker, with complete concentration. Was she modifying them for personal use? Was she adapting them? Simon suggested later that she was making them into a necklace, but there was no clear result from her task. She spent a fair while on the donuts and the toasts, before finally settling down to read a book from the Chinese language section.

I had to admit I was finding this person more interesting than the book so put it down. I’d had so much hope that it was going to turn me into an optimist. It’s impossible, I’ll never be an optimist. I also had a book about archetypes, Who Am I? An Archetypal Quest, in which you cast an “archetype map” from the archetypes given in the book. You are made up of a combination of these archetypes, all of which have positive and negative characteristics, or light and shadow, as the book names them. I had hoped the process of casting my map would be simple, but I would have had to read the entire book in order to choose what archetypes most spoke to me and I didn’t have time to delve into the complexities of my identity. I did, however, notice a coincidence:

I was sitting right next to the Enid Blyton section in the children’s books. I was never much of a Blyton reader, though I had read the Magic Faraway Tree at some point. To the left of the Blytons were some Judy Blume novels, of which I had read many, and still remember details of to this day. This isn’t to say that I loved Judy Blume books, they made me feel kind of uncomfortable. I couldn’t relate to the families in the books, something about them seemed too American to me, or at least that was what I attributed the strangeness to at the time. A lot were about physical changes to the body, which was something I had an aversion to knowing too much about. My favourite Judy Blume book was “Deenie”, about the teenage girl who had to be put in a full-body brace in order to straighten her spine. The horror of it thrilled me, what if I needed something like that! The book goes through the process of Deenie, who had once been a popular, everyday girl, being cast for the brace, and having to catch the special bus to school with the other children who had disabilities as well as suffering all the other painful social consequences of being different to the other kids.

When I was a bit older, I borrowed a book from the Turramurra library called Letters to Judy, a collection of some of the letters she had received from readers over the years. These were more interesting to me than her books, I liked the idea of this secret world of correspondence and the idea that a writer could become your friend and advisor.

Although I have mixed reactions to Judy’s books, I do have a poster of her, which I think of as my motivational poster. I look upon her smiling, 80s visage and think about the power of being able to write and make people feel less alone. I found the poster in a Canberra op shop when I was in town to run a zine workshop and felt like it was a kind of sign from the universe telling me I was doing the right thing. For me, Judy Blume seems permanently fixed in the 80s, but she is still working. Check out Judy Blume’s website! It’s worth it for the animation, possibly one of the strangest features of an author’s website I’ve ever seen.

Deenie wasn’t on the shelf here, which was perhaps a good thing as I would have become engrossed in reading it again. I got up to have a look at the children’s books section and found a whole area devoted to books about myths and fairytales:

I like how this series of books comprehensively covers the many different types of mythological creatures, wizards, ogres, changelings, witches. Nearby was a book called the Olive Fairy Book, which I picked out as it reminded me of the kinds of books I used to borrow from Dural library as a child. Opening it, I was perplexed by this message in the back:

I did, indeed, slide my fingernails across the plastic, somewhat nervous as to what might happen (a potplant over the other side of the room might explode, or something). But all that happened was a kind of grating noise.

Also nearby was the Complete Idiot’s Guide to the World of Harry Potter. “Covers all seven books”. Don’t have time to read the books but want to know what people are talking about when they are going on about muggles? This is the book for you. My rather ambivalent opinions about the world of Harry Potter I will save for another time.

Some new people had appeared at the desks, a girl in drab study clothes, her hair piled up messily on her head, glasses on. I noticed the waistband of her beige track suit pants had slipped down to reveal the bright red g-string she was wearing underneath. This was her secret identity. She sat at the desk leaning on her maths books, sending a text message. Other girls were sitting on chairs nearby, reading copies of Dolly and Vogue.

In the fiction section, a room to the side of the kid’s area, I browsed around and pick out a novel about a woman who works in a library, The Stopping Place by Helen Slavin. The excessive number of quotes from reviews printed at the start of the book led me to believe it would be compelling, impressively offbeat, racy, captivating, highly evolved, quietly moving, and hilarious. I can’t remember ever having read a novel that was about a librarian, although I feel like I must have some time in my life. Are there great librarians of literature? Who are they?

I was intending to sit down and flip through this book, but when I was having a final browse in the art and craft section I decided that I would borrow it, as I was going to join the library in order to borrow:

I will be going into detail about this book in a separate post, as it is exactly the kind of book that I imagine is – but shouldn’t be – weeded from library collections. Published in 1975, it features the wildest masks you could ever or never imagine making at home.

Its survival here was perhaps due to the fact it had been borrowed many times, if the due date slip was anything to go by:

I went up to the desk and asked to become a member of the library. I felt nervous doing this for some reason, perhaps because I don’t live in Burwood. You don’t have to live in Burwood to be a member, but I felt a bit like an imposter. I filled in the form for a card and the librarian entered my details into the computer. I watched her long fingernails tap the letters of my name and address across the keys. My reward was a green and orange library card (the same colour scheme as my Leichhardt library card, coincidentally).

I went round to the other side of the desk to check out my books from another one of the librarians. She scanned my card, then the library novel, then opened the back of the masks book to find the barcode. She looked at the due date slip I had just been admiring then ripped it right off the page, crumpled it in her hand and threw it in the bin! I gaped at her, shocked, and she pushed the books, with the receipt tucked into one of them, across the counter towards me.


Filed under Inner Western Sydney, Sydney Public Libraries

Stanmore Library (Thumbtacks)

During the many years I lived in Petersham, I’d ride my bike along the path past the back of Stanmore Library. Painted on the back was a graffiti mural, which I must have looked at in passing hundreds of times. Today, when I came to Stanmore library, I found the whole building painted over a dull green, the mural included. Despite the many times I’d seen it, I couldn’t remember exactly what was on it besides a figure of a girl in a short skirt with purple hair. It was one of those council sanctioned graffiti murals, perhaps with a don’t do drugs message, the kind that’s meant to be as exciting as actual graffiti. Now as I stood looking at the blank green wall, I imagined the figures in the mural buried underneath.

Stanmore library is one of the smallest Sydney libraries I have visited, although it looks smaller on the outside than it does on the inside. The building is one long rectangular shed, situated in the park beside the train station. This has always seemed to me a good place to have a library, in a space that has some kind of civic importance. Another civic object, to be found alongside the library, is this drinking fountain, presented to the citizens of Stanmore in 1949.

Although I like drinking fountains as civic objects, I can’t help but recall one time seeing a large, slobbery St Bernhard with its paws up on the side of one, while his owner turned on the water for the dog to drink. The dog’s big tongue slurped over the spout, which would then be later used by some thirsty passerby.

It was 11am on a rainy Wednesday when I arrived at the library. I’d caught the 412 bus to Stanmore with a number of small old Greek ladies. I was waiting at the bus stop with one of these women, and watched as she unwrapped a packet of cigarettes she’d just bought from the grocery across the street. She lit up a cigarette and I stood up to move upwind of her, reflecting how it was perhaps meant to be the other way around: wasn’t I meant to be the one smoking, being (although I’m not sure this word quite applies anymore) young? She and her cohorts stayed on the bus, going, perhaps, to the hospital further along the bus route.

The library had changed its colour scheme since I was last there, many years ago now. It used to have bright green chairs like big green apples. Now the colour scheme is beige and the purple of Marrickville Council. I looked around for somewhere to sit. It was man hour in the library, besides the two librarians, everyone else there was male. I went down to the round wooden table in the young adult fiction area, and sat in a position from which I could see the whole library in front of me.

Like Dural Library, Stanmore library has windows lining the two long walls of the building, up high. Through these I saw the trains rushing by on the train lines above. Every few minutes one would whoosh past. Planes came over as well, screaming down on their path to Sydney airport. The planes always come that way when it is overcast, something I know well from my Petersham years. Despite these sounds, the library was a place of great calm.

A man sat on one of the couches, reading a week’s worth of Sydney Morning Heralds. He was an old man in a beanie, the kind who has sockless, skinny ankles poking out from under the hem of his trousers. I watched him struggle with the large broadsheet, getting it into the best position for reading. On the other side of the room, two men used the internet. Both had notebooks with lists of things to look up, and both occasionally swore at the screen. I didn’t pry too much, but I peeked over the shoulder of the man nearest me, to see he was looking up different kinds of locks.

The table I was sitting at was near the Graphic Novels and the “Board Books”, a genre I hadn’t come across before. It means the thick cardboard books for children, the thick cardboard which readily gets damp and germy from being chewed on. I looked away from them. The table surface beneath me had a pleasing patina, the varnish wearing off a little. The bookshelves that lined the walls were the same colour wood. There were other desks, more modern melamine ones, in the centre of the room. A man was sitting there studying, bent over his notebooks.

A man in an orange safety vest entered and delivered a poster to the librarians. The librarians then debated for a long time where to put it up. Eventually they took it, and a jar of drawing pins, into the corner where the noticeboards were, with posters for events like National Simultaneous Storytime and Reading Challenge 2011. The new poster was for Refugee Week, although first I read the slogan and read Freedom from Fear and thought it was about anxiety. An older poster was taken down and this new one put in its place. Something I particularly enjoy is pinning up posters on boards, removing the out of date ones to make room for mine. I pinned up a flyer for the zine fair I’m helping organise on my work noticeboard last week and did exactly this.

I went to browse the non fiction collection, which was on the wooden shelves lining the walls at the other end of the library. The good thing about a small library is that you can look at all the books, and don’t have to pick a particular section to work your way through. One section I will be focussing on in particular during this project is the books about books, which is the very start of the Dewey decimal numbers. I picked out a book from the 002s, “The Book of Lost Books” by Stuart Kelly. “The incomplete history of all the great books you will never read” was its subtitle. In general I find these kinds of list books very boring, especially ones that suggest I ought to do all the things inside before I die. I look at the book and think Oh my God I’m going to die? Rather than rushing to book holidays, buy books, listen to albums or whatever other essential experience is listed within.

This book, however, appealed to me as it was about things that no longer existed. These books had existed at some point in time but were lost or destroyed somewhere along the way. I took this book back to my desk and examined it further. The two entries I read first – the book is structured chronologically, according to author – were Nikolai Gogol and Sylvia Plath, both stories I already know. Gogol burnt the second half of his novel Dead Souls in a crazed fervour, and Plath’s second novel, Double Exposure, “disappeared” sometime after her death. The author notes how chilling the word “disappeared” is in its vagueness. There were no contemporary examples. There is more of a trend for works in progress to be published in whatever state they are in after an author’s death, such as The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov (which he explicitly didn’t want to have published) and The Pale King by every angsty boy’s favourite writer, David Foster Wallace. Instead, contemporary lost books are the countless books that people have written and never had published. These are the “novels in the drawer” of people who would never be referred to by their last name in a literary context.

As I sat pondering this, my thoughts were interrupted by a careful voice reading out “I do not like them Sam I am” from the children’s area behind me. A little girl and her grandmother had come in and settled there. The girl had immediately gone for the open jar of thumbtacks, in that precise way children have for locating the most dangerous or precious thing in a room. A librarian came to the rescue, saying “Don’t touch, very sharp”, putting them out of reach.

I moved on to the next book I’d picked out, this one from the 300s, which was “A Dictionary of Old Trades, Title and Occupations”. I was hoping for some clues for a new job for me. I was not looking for a new job, but I believe it’s important to have a back up plan. So if being an Associate Lecturer falls through, I can try my hand at being an:

Amanuensis – a secretary or recorder of transactions.

Chickweed Seller

Chronologist – a documenter of events

Dragon’s Blood Dealer – dealer in resins and gums

Mouldiwarp Catcher – a mole catcher

Wart Curer

These occupations, many from 19th century England, were notable in their specificity. If only all I had to do was sell chickweed!

It was peaceful in the library, with the men busy working and me looking through books in the corner. The librarians kept up a low, steady conversation about library related problems, someone’s timesheet not filled in correctly, where to find a JP on a Wednesday… I felt almost as if I was in someone’s house, it was so cosy in there. A couple with a baby came in a return some books, Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, a Kathy Lette book. The baby, parked near the entrance, while its parents looked around, was zipped up in a rainproof pouch inside a stroller, with only its head showing. It stared out uncomprehendingly, as if stunned by the strangeness of everything around it.

The final book in my pile was from the biographies section, a book about Joan Jett. It was a big square book with lots of photos inside, which seemed to be a kind of autobiography, although it was hard to tell exactly. The majority of it was photographs. The introduction was by Kathleen Hanna and there were some slightly blurry photos of the two of them posing together. The first page of text was, perplexingly, the letters W.W.J.J.D? What Would Joan Jett do? That’s a question to ask yourself next time you are in a moral quandary. My favourite pictures in the book were of Joan Jett on the phone. Did I ever expect photos of people on clunky, curly cord phones to be retro?

In one photo she’s lying on a bed, her shoes still on, a small soft toy elephant on one beside table and a tape recorder on the one on the other side, leaning against a wall that’s patterned with bamboo and big yellow flowers. The room is 70s domestic but she’s in black jeans and a t-shirt, of course. The other photo is in a kitchen, and she’s wearing a tuxedo t-shirt and staring at the camera while she’s on the phone. On the kitchen bench is a box of Hostess Suzy Q’s, mini boxes of Corn Flakes and a box for a kind of candy called 8 Stripes. Suzy Q’s are a chocolate cake sandwich with cream in the middle (and I see you can buy them on Amazon…but would you?) I like photos of famous people in domestic situations, especially if they have a style that looks out of place around packets of Corn Flakes and 70s wallpaper. (here for those who don’t trust word descriptions)

I photocopied these pictures of Joan Jett on the phone, noticing the photocopier had a sign on it warning me to use coins.

I was happy to – I dislike control cards, especially the ones that you have to set a pin for. Do you really need a pin for a photocopy card? I put my 40c coins into the machine and copied the pictures. Over this side of the library was another appealing desk, this one beside a big indoor plant. I decided to relocate here. This desk wasn’t wooden but it was a wood patterned laminate. The accompanying black vinyl 80s armchair with wooden armrests are not so good, however, it was were the kind of chair you feel you might never get up from. Even if you are strong and healthy you get a taste of what it must be like to be elderly and have trouble getting up. I hauled myself up out of it and chose one of the beige desk chairs instead.

From my position here, half hidden by the plant, I continued to observe the library. The plant was like a kind of camouflage – here I was, peeking out at library users in their natural habitat. A man in a track suit with stringy long grey hair borrowing books about depression; a woman with a huge noisy bunch of keys who was wearing a stick on label with KAREN written on it, and sunglasses even though she was inside, and had some urgent business at the counter. In quieter moments the librarians discuss how they need a bucket or an umbrella stand during wet weather and the popularity of their Premier’s Literary Awards display, which had been set up that morning and already been borrowed from.

From this desk I noticed that the bookends are the same green that I remember the lounges being. The longer you inhabit a place, the more details you notice. I can now see the snowflakes cut out of coloured construction paper stuck to the windows, the other side of which is sprayed with an angry silver graffiti tag.

One of my tasks at the library was to find a novel to read while I’m on holidays. While I looked I took note of the books I can’t imagine anyone borrowing from a library:

How many times would you have to renew it?

I haven’t felt very excited about fiction for a while now, but forced myself to pick Utopian Man by Lisa Lang from the display rack. The novel won the Vogel Literary Award in 2009 and I remember reading about it in the newspaper. I also remember thinking, while reading the article, “I am never going to win the Vogel Literary Award”. This was not me lacking self esteem, this was a kind of acceptance that I’m not going to write a novel. For a long time I thought, as is the general perception, that a novel is the height of literary achievement and I would naturally write one. I might have one in my drawer from a long time ago, but I don’t think it’s going to have any siblings in the near future.

Utopian Man is about Edward William Cole, who was the Cole behind the Coles Book Arcade, and Coles Funny Picture book, the first port of call should you ever need a picture of a monkey in a hurry. Opening up the novel, I saw that it has a lot of dialogue, which made me wary: I get sick of reading dialogue and hearing their voices in my head. I hold the book and struggle with my own head-voice: it just needs to be the kind of book you can read on the plane, Vanessa, just borrow it.

Which brings me to another question: is it a good idea to travel with library books? I’ve taken them on holidays quite a few times, sometimes over the other side of the world if it’s only for a short period of time. I enjoy returning them, thinking that I’ve taken them on such a journey, which will forever remain a secret.

One of the things I love about library books is that they’ve been in other people’s houses, in their bags, read while in bed, in the bath, on buses, who knows? Sometimes the crumbs and hairs caught inside give me clues to their previous journeys. What I’d like is a register in the back of the book where people could write notes on their reading of the book. Places where the book kept them company, or strange things that happened while they were reading the book, rather than the kind of book club musings or Amazon reviews that would, of course, be the most likely things people would think to write there. I will keep you up to date with what happens while I read Utopian Man, to test this idea.

With all this talk of borrowing, it’s obvious that I’m a member of this library. The Stanmore library is one of the branch libraries of Marrickville: the others being St Peters (currently closed for refurbishment) and Dulwich Hill. I like how libraries exist in families, with the big main library and its smaller siblings. In my extensive readings of the local papers over the years I’ve read debates about whether to retain branch libraries, and remember reading one about plans to close down the Stanmore branch, which attracted irate letters to the editor.

Although there are plans to built a new central Marrickville library in the old Marrickville Hospital site, I see no plans to close the branch libraries. But who knows, what with the death of books and all.

Having heard and read plenty of things in the last week about the death of the book, I am starting to feel like I am a dreadful conservative. Maybe I am. I hope to die before the day comes when I can surf the internet in my own mind and see webpages on my retinas. All I will say about the debate this time is that my opposition to arguments for making libraries less the books and more about social space is that I’m one of the people who goes there for the books. And whose business is it for anyone to tell me if I should still read books or not?

For now I’m a woman wearing a red jumper, borrowing a book from a library. I go up to the desk and hand the librarian the book with my card on the top, she scans my card, hands it back, scans the book, prints out a borrowing receipt and tucks it inside the pages. I put it into my bag and go out into the overcast afternoon, as another plane roars overhead and I walk through the underpass and out towards Enmore, happy to be out in the streets again after a few hours of library peace.

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Filed under Inner Western Sydney, Sydney Public Libraries, The Suburbs