‘Stepping into a library is where the adventure really begins for me’

Jun 08, 2020
Libraries are places where adventure begins according to Vivienne. Source: Getty Images

My adventures with libraries began when I was 10 years old and was able to walk the mile or so by myself to the small town library. I found my fill of adventure books, mainly by Enid Blyton. My adventures concerned English coastlines, smugglers, incompetent adults and picnics with lashings of lemonade.

We moved to the inner city and while there didn’t seem to be a local library, the school had a cloakroom with bookshelves. Here I discovered English boarding school stories, and my adventures were then various pranks, midnight feasts and hockey matches. My friends and I were put in charge of keeping the library tidy. We arranged it to suit ourselves and appeared to be the only borrowers.

Promotion to high school saw a vast room full of books with an actual librarian and a regulated borrowing system. As well as fiction we were introduced to research and the Dewey system. These basic tools I was taught then have stood me in good stead throughout the rest of my life. In time, I passed those skills on to others. University life bought a whole new way of library use, most of it focused on the soulless Fisher.

My favourite library in those years was the City of Sydney Library, at that time located in the Queen Victoria Building, well before it’s transformation to the beautiful shopping arcade of today. I would catch the lift at the northern end to what is now the tearoom. It was fusty, but usually had the history books I needed.

It was in those years, I was introduced to the Mitchell Library, still one of my favourite buildings in Sydney. Passing Parliament House in the mid-1960s could be an adventure as you never knew what demonstration you’d have to walk through, to get to the library. The Reading Room at the library still catches my breath, with its tiers of bookshelves, wooden desks and atmosphere of quiet endeavour that remains the same.

My first appointment to a small country town saw me unable to join the local library. Teachers were regarded as itinerant workers, not to be trusted.

The next country town had a lovely librarian in a charming brick building in a tree lined street. The librarian and I shared similar tastes. I read the Poldark series among others, and then moved to books on bringing up baby.

In the next country town, I was able to introduce my daughters to libraries. A big adventure was to catch the bus to the library and choose the next fortnight’s reading. Favourites were borrowed on a rotational basis. There was a cake shop opposite to complete the morning’s treat.

In the years after, libraries, apart from school libraries, played less of a role. When an accident meant I was housebound for months, I welcomed the volunteers, who brought me a selection of books chosen by a librarian who had interviewed me about my preferences in genre and author. At this time, I read a lot about the Middle East, both fiction and non-fiction and am so grateful that I was able to adventure though confined.

Libraries started me on an adventure that is not yet over.

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