A few eager people are waiting in the meeting room. A dozen or so more are milling around restlessly in anticipation of the Kindle Workshop which is due to start soon. Deciding not to join them yet I head off to inspect the DVDs. I quickly scan the documentaries then search through the movie titles and pick out a few. I then grab a couple of magazines.
My husband meanwhile, is busy gathering a collection of books by his favourite authors. In a few minutes he comes looking for me but by then I am standing by the Graphic Novels engaged in animated conversation with an old friend. We decide not to attend the workshop. Instead the three of us stand with arms laden with books, magazines, DVDs and a couple of CDs and continue our conversation which gradually morphs into a discussion of the changing role and nature of libraries today. Libraries, we all agreed are nothing like they used to be. They are truly a trove of treasures. No-one is ‘shushing’ us as we talk. The atmosphere is relaxed: a pleasant place to spend some time on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The late well-know author Ray Bradbury was once quoted as saying: “Libraries raised me…when I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to College so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years”. I often think libraries raised me too. I can’t estimate the number of hours I have spent in libraries.
Once libraries were simply depositories of books to borrow or to refer to for information, now they appear to be on an enthusiastic mission to reinvent themselves in order to embrace the C21st. To these ends, libraries are changing. My local library now offers internet and e-reader workshops, access to digital magazines and digital audio books through One Click Digital as well as free WiFi. I think the best digital innovation is being able to access the library catalogue from home, reserving it with a click and picking it up knowing it is waiting for you. And, if you enjoy researching online, with a few more clicks you can access the State Library or National Library’s digital collection of books, magazines and newspapers, dating back to the C19th. Although…there is still something delightful in browsing the shelves and randomly selecting titles that capture your attention in the moment.
Local libraries in the C21st are also evolving in other ways. They are fast becoming acknowledged for their active role in community building turning into social hubs where a wide range of activities that could cater for just about anyone, are run. My local library hosts free reading groups, knitting groups, school holiday craft workshops, study sessions for HSC students, author talks and movie nights. Assistance is available for those working on their family histories. They even run a Lego Club for children once a month.
Local libraries are becoming seen as a safe and relaxing place to establish meaningful connections to the community. “A neutral space where serendipitous encounters with people and ideas take place”, according to Richard Watson in an article ‘Public Libraries: If We Didn’t Have Them, We Would Have to Invent Them’.
So…back to my serendipitous encounter. After a good fifteen minutes of chatting we say our goodbyes and take our treasured finds to the check-out area. “This should keep us busy for a few days,” I comment to the librarian who replies with smile. Then as we slowly walk out from the magical world of reading, listening and watching in all its magnificent forms into the stark reality of the street, I remember another Ray Bradbury quote: “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future,” to which I would now add “and no wonderful afternoons to find such treasures in the present moment”.
I am a retired journalist who spends her free time writing essays, flash fiction and knitting quirky pieces. I live in Kiama, NSW Australia with my partner and spoilt cat! I also love spending time in my local library.