I love libraries

In Australia, bowerbirds collect scraps of anything that interests them and use it to decorate their nest.  For some reason they collect anything that’s blue.

I often feel like a bowerbird when I spend time at a library – I can easily spend a few hours, even whole days there, as I used to do quite often when I had access to the State Libraries in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney.  I’m not a great reader of novels but love the non-fiction shelves, having an interest in just about anything that has a raised profile for me at the time: history, current events, a country in the news, an aspect of art, music, medicine or science…

Today I spent a few more hours at the State Library of South Australia.  First I checked out their rather limited collection of books on medical science, hoping (in vain) I’d find something to help me with my blogging in that area.  It seems that medical books are not for the general public.  Even my university had very little on this subject area.  Clearly this arcane science is secreted away from most of us in university medical schools… I wonder why?

Maps of places I know and places we plan to visit are another big interest.  Good atlases include not only maps but also statistics, charts, and other information related to each country, from agriculture to the weather.  This seems to be a family thing, as I found a cousin with the same love.  The pity is that atlases date quite quickly.

Nowadays the internet has become a readily available, unimaginably rich and usually current source of the material for which we used to go to books.  But I find there is still a special joy in finding and actually holding a book with just the information I want.  At home we have a very large collection of books, most related to the work we have each done over many years, but also thousands of others that we have collected, bought or been given, and which have become part of our home treasuries.

Paul McGuire (1903-75)

My third subject of special interest is “matters maritime”.  After moving to Adelaide in 1997 I was thrilled to discover that our State Library here has one of the world’s largest maritime libraries, set up in 1978 and named after Paul McGuire, a distinguished South Australian and the writer of more than 30 works of fiction, verse, history, travel and politics.  Paul McGuire had a particular interest in ships and the sea.  A trust fund set up by his widow Frances McGuire has enabled the Library to build up a very large and excellent collection of books, maps and journals covering most aspects of shipping. There is more information on the web about the McGuires and the State Library’s maritime section named after him.

Another drawcard is the display of the library’s latest acquisitions.  Browsing through some of the new books on a wide range of topics is always a feast.

My interest is too broad and my memory too undisciplined to produce anything significant with this love of information.  But it is satisfying to know and understand something about many things.  It’s interesting that one of my daughters chose a husband with a similar mind!  A love of libraries fits well with my Arts degree and a lifetime of work with people.

Until a few hundred years ago, the world’s most learned people knew a fair bit about almost every area of human knowledge and endeavour.  Of course I’m nowhere near these great names, and today that sort of knowledge is totally beyond our reach.

I’m content just being a higher form of bowerbird.  Wow!

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