Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Going to the library. When I was a youngster we didn't have the internet. If you wanted to be cool you had to learn how from your already cool older brother or sister. If you were the eldest in your family you had to read international magazines several months out of date, or undergo the hazing ritual of interacting with the hostile punks who staffed the intimidating alternative fashion and record stores. Dangerfield? LOOKSHOORY.

And stalking was much harder back then! Paedophiles had to spot our grade six aerobics team in the local paper and then look our home phone numbers up in the phone book and then if they had guessed the right number and someone was home, the paedophiles could breathe loudly down the phone at them.

And instead of Google-stalking the guy I had a crush on, I would also look him up in the White Pages and then ride my bike repeatedly past his house. I don't know what I would have done if he had emerged. Ride away, I suppose.

And as for learning about things – well, I had to go to the library. The actual library, with books in! The Box Hill library, that beige concrete bunker, with a naff sundial on the front whose existentially disconcerting motto, "Our days are as a shadow", seemed to apply as much to the librarians themselves as the sundial.

Chinese dragons also hung out at the library.

I guess I was marked as a nerd quite early in life by the fact that going to the library was always a major treat and weekend/holiday outing. I got my first library card aged around four and was a regular patron until the time I moved out of home, aged 20.

The Box Hill library was probably quite crappy and limited but I thought it was amazing. It was my primary source of information on all topics. When I visited, my MO was to go straight to the catalogue and look up authors and topics I was interested in at the time. I was a completist when it came to serial novels and would methodically work my way through every one the library owned. Then I would just wander the stacks looking for interesting-looking books.

During my infatuation with dinosaurs c1983, I read every single book the library owned on that topic. I also read all its Doctor Who novelisations and even the Who fanzines that I'm kind of amazed the library owned. I borrowed videos and CDs. I even borrowed the library's copies of Cosmopolitan and Cleo.

I was just thinking the other day about how happy I used to feel about the ritual I indulged in when I visited the library by myself. I would catch the train to Box Hill station and then walk through the mall and down Bank Place, along the railway line. This would be my first glimpse of the library: its car park and the tall, narrow windows that always reminded me of arrow slits in a fortress.

Once I'd loaded up with books, I would walk back down Bank Place and into Box Hill Central, where I would purchase a chicken schnitzel burger from some terrible place in the food court and ensconce myself there while I eagerly began to read the most hotly anticipated of my new loans.

Later, when a fast-food restaurant opened in the servo on Whitehorse Road opposite the mall, I would get food from there instead and sit to read and eat on a bench in one of the islands in the middle of the main road. It annoys me that I can't remember which fast-food place it was. I could swear it was McDonald's but perhaps it was KFC, given my love of fried chicken.

And I were 'appy!

When I finished my MA and lost my Melbourne University library privileges I joined the City Library (which at that time was associated with the Carlton Library) and got right back into the joy of library patronage. But all that was spoiled when I forgot to return two books for so long that the library listed them as 'lost' and I would have had to pay for them anyway. They were academic books and you know how expensive those are. So I still have the books to this day and I have never been able to borrow from the City Library again.

That pedo story happened to me too, also via the local paper, although it was letters rather than phonecalls.
It was McDonald's. Now it's something called Bubba Pizza. Tastes like it sounds.

I used to love the Box Hill library but then they renovated and made it open plan which ruined the stodgy-yet-cosy seventies feel.
Oh no, did the renovation destroy the light well/indoor garden where on Sundays at 2pm there would be quiet little concerts by classical guitarists?
And, I recall, a wispy-haired lady harpist.

Yes, the garden was removed; in its place there is a dvd section. Some would call that progress *sniffs*.
I love this, Mel.

I used to LOVE going to the library as a kid. The limit on the number of books you were allowed to take out (10 per card?) seemed woefully inadequate and I have clear memories of going there with mum weekly, and beginning the first of my books in the car on the way home.

My mother was such an inveterate late returner of books that I recall she racked up such fines she abandoned her own account and opened another in her mother's name! (My nana lives in NZ.) Terrible.

This all has particular resonance for me because I just joined the library closest to where I am living now, in East London. It is the Whitechapel Library, but for some naff reason goes by the name 'The Idea Store'. But it has lots of free internet, free scanning and cheap printing, and a wonderful selection of books. Best of all, you can order books in from other branches for free. I feel like a 5-year-old again.
Yes! I'd always beg Mum to let me stay longer to read in that magical fernery with the goldfish and let me walk home by myself.
When I read Matilda and imagine her going to the library, it's still always Box Hill library in my head.
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