Riverwood Library (Bricks)

I sat under the liquidambar tree beside the library, eating a salad roll. The tree was next to the library carpark and a man was sitting in the driver’s seat of a dark blue Ford, reading a library book. Rather than watch him I turned the other way so I was facing the street and the row of identical tiny brick houses across the street.

These brown brick houses face the white bricks of Riverwood library. I’m fond of the appearance of this library, its 70s brick symmetry, flat roof, series of hedges, and its letterbox (not a feature I’ve noticed at any other library). It looks both solid and inspiring, which was no doubt the aim of the architect.

At the entrance was a bronze plaque that detailed the library’s opening in 1971, as well as two other noticeboards with council information and opening hours, both of the type where little white letters are stuck to the ridged black board behind. This is my favourite kind of noticeboard, it reminds me of the rubber stamps you assemble from individual letters, and would probably be as maddening to change, with an alphabet soup of individual letters to search through. The sign for the opening hours was made up of tiles which clicked into the background:

Inside the library there were a lot of men in caps reading newspapers at the tables, as there usually is. All was as expected. The caps were for some kind of sporting team, or the kind of promotional cap one gets for free. The men were over 50, probably retired, both holding newspapers but having a vigorous conversation in Chinese. Beside the men was a surly teenage boy drinking a Dare choc milk and reading a book about World War 2, whether for school or for pleasure, I don’t know. I suspect the latter as he wasn’t in school uniform and he looked old enough to have left school. The is something unnerving about young war enthusiasts.

I heard a sound I hadn’t expected to in the library: the click clack of a sewing machine. Yes, there was a sewing machine set up in the kids area, near the bookshelf shaped like a caterpillar, and two women were sitting at it. One was giving the other a sewing lesson. Piled up on the table were plastic containers of sewing bits and pieces. The teacher leaned in to inspect her students’ work. Both were quite young, and I wondered whether the sewing lessons were a feature of the library, or a private teacher using the space. I thought of high school sewing lessons and how happy I’d felt when I could thread the machine properly, it made me feel very competant. I still feel competant, on the odd occasion I do it.

With the hum of the sewing machine in the background I looked over the non-fiction books. Riverwood is a reasonably small branch library so I’d be looking at books about self help and then books about how to play tennis, without quite having noticed the shift. I had been having one of those days on which I break my favourite teapot, bump my head on the corner of a cupboard and spill a whole container of Ecco cereal beverage on the floor (and that stuff is sticky, I tell you). Have I done these three things together before? Maybe not. But I knew the type of day well.

For guidance I picked up the book Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich. I’d read her book Nickeled and Dimed about surviving on minimum wage in America and found it pleasingly sparky, but when I opened this book to the dedication and read: “To complainers everywhere: Turn up the Volume!” the thought of living in a world loud with complaints made me shudder. Despite a habit of whinging, I complain publicly rarely, but in fact a few days earlier I’d complained at Marrickville library, in the cranky way of someone who has, for the second time, been told they can’t borrow a book because it is on hold to someone else, even though it is just sitting on the shelf (“Is that how it works,” I said, “you wait until someone wants to borrow it and get them to find it on the shelf for you?” What a grump. Sorry, librarian friends, for being one of those people.)

This poster details attitudes towards librarians! The truth is portrayed as a kind of librarian Vishnu.

Her main argument in the book is that, rather than being forced to be positive, being realistic is a far more useful and healthy attitude. As I pondered this I looked across to the computers. They were fairly close by and I could see what the man closest to me was watching on youtube, “Nuba and Harley mating time”, a video of two Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs mating that has been viewed almost 3 million times. Was his interest personal or professional? I didn’t want to think about it too much.

Over at the desk a jovial conversation about hair was going on between the two men working at the library, a man borrowing books, and another man just chatting. The latter man was wearing a brown and yellow beanie and glasses with thick black frames. He’d been hanging around for a while, concerned with the ergonomics of the librarian’s desk and computer set up. This not getting much of a response he moved onto talk of the librarian’s recent haircut: “Looks a bit better but you didn’t get any on the top.” From this, a long conversation about bald patches ensued, each man rubbing their own bald patch as they spoke.

The atmosphere in Riverwood library was quite loud and jolly, with the sewing lesson, the bald patch conversation, and other sonic interruptions, such as the shuddering every time the automatic door opened. It sounded like a truck had roared past and shaken the windows, which is what I thought it was, at first, before realising it was the automatic door.

I glimpsed the computer screen again – now the man was watching a video of camels mating. I faced the situation with realism and decided I felt a bit disturbed by this, put my book back, and left through the shuddering door to the sunny afternoon outside.



Filed under South Western Sydney

Biblioburbia Live

Come along to the State Library next Tuesday, June 12th, at 6pm and you will hear me talking about Biblioburbia. My favourite libraries, strangest observations, and some reflections on exploring the suburbs through libraries, and why someone might devote a fair amount of her time doing so. I’ll be bringing along some of my zines also, and, importantly, wearing my most librarian outfit (all the way from the GDR).

For more details see the State Library website here.

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Biblioburbia Zine, and New Blog

I’ve made a Biblioburbia you can hold in your pocket – a library card size zine which has entries for each library I have visited.

I sold out of it at the MCA zine fair last weekend, but have put together some more, which you can order on my Etsy shop, or by contacting me directly.

The stories inside are moments from this blog, different ones from the stories included on the Biblioburbia Map. The map came out of hiding and was pored over by many at the MCA zine fair.

A number of people have asked me what is happened with Biblioburbia: I will still be writing here occasionally, however most of my operations are moving to my new blog, Mirror Sydney. See you there!

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Filed under announcements, Bits and Pieces

I found this note behind my bed – it dates from the beginning of Biblioburbia, and lists the topics I hoped to cover. Like all my lists, it started off seriously and then degenerated into doodling. Some of the items on this list are mysterious to me, in fact the list itself isn’t familiar to me: I don’t remember writing it. Probably before going to bed one night, with my mind fired up with plans and ideas for Biblioburbia when it was new.

What now for Biblioburbia? I will still post here every month or so but my library excursions have paused for the moment. I’m planning another blog project so I will reveal that soon. The City of Sydney Archives now have a copy of the book of this blog. It’s good to have the book version in a library – I’m not sure what librarians make of this blog, but hopefully some find it interesting. I am making a zine version of Biblioburbia that I’ll have for sale at the MCA zine fair on Sunday, may 20th. I still have copies of the Biblioburbia print. And of course you can reverse back through the blog and read  and reread it, for as long as wordpress exists.

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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

Biblioburbia Exhibition

Here are some photos from the Biblioburbia exhibition at First Draft. You can download the room sheet that accompanied the exhibition here.

This first set is of my map of Biblioburbia, the print of the map, and the book of the blog.

The next photos are Simon Yates’ works inspired by Biblioburbia, Bookface and The Lost World of Microfilm.

Thank you to everyone who helped out with the show, who came along to see it, who bought a print and who told me their library stories.

There are some more photos of the exhibition here.

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Biblioburbia on your wall

For the exhibition I made a print on the Big Fag Press, the grand, heavy machine you can see behind me in the photo above. It’s a two colour offset print in an edition of 100, and approximately 100 x 70cm. I’ll have some prints for sale at the gallery, at the opening and during the exhibition, if you’d like your own chart to navigate Biblioburbia.

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