Lazy Luddite Log

20.6.12

Library

I was sitting in a public library the other day printing something and thinking how fond I am of such a setting. This love of the local library has been in me a long time. My family were regular users of the then Dandenong Valley Regional Library Service. It was more than just a way of instilling in us a habit of reading. It was also a safe and cosy environment in which to engage in the life of the wider community.

There were holiday programs and meeting rooms and all sorts of information services. It was at that library service that I got my work experience and also my original experience of voluntary associations (the then chief librarian Colin Watson founded the Dandenong Valley Science Fiction And Futurist Society which met at various branches).

It went further than this however. My family gave me the impression that public libraries were important in an almost reverential way. I was given an impression of the history that free public borrowing libraries shared with mechanics institutes. The mechanics institutes, beginning in the 1800s, were sometimes the philanthropic project of existing universities, sometimes the product of workers banding together to fund for themselves a setting in which technical and, later, cultural information could be transmitted to fellow workers.

Over time these were converted into or replaced by public libraries, operated by local government rather than by voluntary associations. A significant contribution to the literacy, mobility, and solidarity for the working class was made by mechanics institutes, and even today I think we can see public libraries as fostering similar values for mass society.

Nowadays I use the municipal library service of the City of Monash. I am particularly fond of the Clayton Library. It is one of the smaller branches but it has the most fantastic setting. Get this - it is housed in the same structure as the local indoor swimming pool! Are you shuddering as you imagine shelves of books getting splashed by dive-bombing kids? Well the books are safe because the library and pool are in separate chambers separated by the foyer. I love walking into that foyer and thinking "turn right for the body and left for the mind".

Have a swim. Have a coffee at the small cafe there. Borrow some books. What a life! I worry that we take these sorts of services for granted and forget how much they enhance our lives. This is one good use of local rates.

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2 Comments:

  • Dear Daniel,

    I like the swimming pool idea.

    Have you read the recent novel Among Others (Jo Walton)? It also features such a 70s science fiction club meeting in a public library....

    jc.

    By Blogger jc, At 21 June, 2012  

  • I never have. I need to get more reading into my life. That scene sounds a lot like life...

    By Blogger Daniel, At 16 July, 2012  

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