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January 16, 2012 / Amy Bradney-George

Loving and hating libraries

My earliest memories of libraries involve beanbags and picture books in the kids section of my hometown public library. I would play around between the shelves with my sister and brother while my Mum browsed for books to read or chatted to the librarians.

Years later I was the one browsing and chatting to those very same people, who would order books in specially for me, recommend titles and loan stuff out even when I’d forgotten (or misplaced) my library card. Maybe it’s because I came from a town with such a strong sense of community, but I’ve always associated libraries with socialising.

When I started high school my friends and I would go through book after book at almost the same time, racing each other and waiting til the last person had finally finished before going into long talks about the stories and characters, often with the librarians adding their own comments. To me, libraries were more than a place to get books – they were a place to discuss them and (eventually) develop my own stories.

Later, when I moved away for uni I found some librarians were not quite the same as their small-town counterparts. I think I ended up knowing sections of my campus library better than the staff actually, but still there were those comfy seats and beanbags where people could discuss books, stories and ideas.

A cross-section of Brisbane Square Library.

When the new Brisbane Square Library opened (around 2007 or 2008), linking all the local libraries together through a giant catalogue, I was in book heaven. I also became incredibly impressed by the resources the library had – study rooms, audition and performance spaces, regular free seminars and discussions as well as a range of other events for all ages. In terms of community involvement and catalogues, it’s one of my favourite libraries (though talking to the staff was a very rare occurrence, so no personalised recommendations there).

The Vancouver Public Library also seemed to have a lot of workshops and community events, as well as language classes for people from non-English speaking backgrounds. Unfortunately I was less than impressed by the catalogue and took more advantage of bookstores (which are so much more affordable than their Australian counterparts).

Then I moved to Melbourne last year and started haunting the city library. It’s catalogue is, as far as I’m concerned, shocking for a city, let alone one that UNESCO named a City of Literature in 2011.

There is, however, some redeeming features of the library, like regular art exhibitions, a beautiful piano that anyone can play (and what I’ve heard is lovely) and a Cafe Poet In Residence program. Still, for a city of some four million people, the two story building feels cramped and leaves rather a lot to be desired.

I haven’t exactly had a great time with the staff either. One customer service representative outright accused me of lying when I couldn’t return a book after hours due to the return chute being crammed to overflowing point and another criticised how often I put items on hold (I’m usually a fast reader).

It’s really quite sad that I haven’t come across friendly staff in libraries in so long, it takes away from the entire experience. In response to the last post I wrote about eBooks, fellow reader and blogger Cassie (see Books and Bowel Movements) said she’d had a great time in public libraries in Australia, meeting people and getting librarian recommendations – so I guess there are still some good libraries out there.

Unfortunately, these days I feel as though I like the idea of libraries more than the actual experience of going to one but for now I’ll just hope it’s not like that everywhere and enjoy the books I can get my hands on.

Image: petahopkins

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