Libraries, awesome!

Libraries are awesome, they’ve changed dramatically over the years and this is going to be a few random words thrown together about libraries.

Last month I was at Limmud Oz, a weekend of Jewish learning and found myself paying attention to a panel about growing up in Carlton prior to World War II. It was a fascinating panel with all sorts of details I would never have thought to ask about. One of the panellists was June Factor (author of Unreal Banana Peel!) and she spoke a little about libraries. Apparently there was no lending library in Carlton, there were little shops which provided books for lending but none of those were in Carlton. The State Library of Victoria was available having opened in 1856 but you could only read there and not borrow to take home. Factor mentioned Myer Emporium had a lending library so she used to go in there to borrow her books which never lasted as she was a voracious reader. She also mentioned Alan Marshall (I Can Jump Puddles) was commissioned to write a history of the Myer Emporium and this includes some information about the library. Published in 1962 with the rather interesting title of The Gay Provider, I plan on telling you more about this when I can get hold of a copy.

The words she actually used led me to understand there were no public lending libraries anywhere in Melbourne except in little shops or in Myer and that made me stop and think. Back in 1978 I did my best work at school, a project about the city of Hawthorn, and I turned to that but couldn’t find anything about the age of the library in Hawthorn. Hello google and let my fingers do the walking. Melbourne as a whole was first settled in 1835 with Carlton being settled in the 1850s and Hawthorn much earlier in 1838. I find it interesting that around 80 years after settlement Carlton still didn’t have a library, however a public lending library was built post October 1953. Hawthorn had a public lending library as far back as 1861 and you can check the Trove data base for proof.

I don’t know the policies of public lending libraries at that time, but you probably couldn’t borrow if you lived or worked outside the area making it challenging for children such as Factor who lived in Carlton. I’m also wondering how much people knew about the facilities available in areas outside their suburb and whether they would have known about libraries in different suburbs. The one in Myer Emporium would have been different as that was in the CBD and Myer’s was one of those shops where you went for so many things. I believe my grandmother worked there for some years, possibly prior to her getting married.

To do this topic real justice I should have looked at lending libraries throughout Melbourne but with over 800 words just on Carlton and Hawthorn alone I suspect this topic is too big for one article. Sound much more like a book! I wonder who’s going to write that.

This article from The Guardian tells us that School Libraries must be fit for the purpose they are created. That purpose has changed an incredible amount. When I was young libraries were quiet, they were only for quiet reading and studying, getting any child to do anything that might possibly be noisy was anathema. If you visit a public library during school holidays you might find a different experience, I was at the Bentleigh Library a couple of weeks ago, the tots reading programme had finished as that’s in the morning but instead they had a school holiday programme with young attendees making things out of Loom Bands, it was buzzing. I should have actually taken my iPad there and done some writing, I tend to do my best writing when there’s lots of noise around.

I found so much more while googling and I’ll finish up with a few more words about Trove. It’s the website of the National Library of Australia and such a wonderful resource. The staff have spent a lot of time and angst scanning in many magazines and newspapers from across the country. If you’re doing historical research this is a fantastic place to be. I spent a bit of time there looking up many things about Carlton and Hawthorn finding many useful and/or interesting articles in now defunct newspapers such as The Argus. I happen to have an account and every time I’m there I spend a few minutes correcting some of the errors that creep in when you scan with OCR. To make it easy they have the original PDF on the right and the text from OCR on the left. While you don’t have to have an account it helps if you want to keep track of the number of lines you’ve fixed. I’m only up to about 100 while others have fixed thousands of lines.