As the great Maya Angelou suggests in this video excerpt “a library is a rainbow in the clouds”. In my own experience libraries are places of great hope, democracy and discovery. My first fulltime job was in a library. At the time I remember feeling grateful for the money, the stability of routine and being employed with the Pine Rivers Shire Council. Thank you enterprise bargaining and above average superannuation contributions, don’t think they’ve been as high ever since. All that was great but only now in hindsight can I acknowledge the impact of the mentorship of senior female librarians. I was fortunate to have the guidance of two women who occupied the end offices. Their doors were open though they would still look at me over the top of their bifocals as I approached… eeek. Both these women, the Director of Library Services, Rosalind and the Librarian, Marion, were powerful in my eyes. At 18, what did I know of powerful women and leadership but what better place to learn and be led with serious, intelligent and hard working women who cared for the broad resourcing of these institutions. These women were a little scary at times… after all they were librarians and they liked quiet. You have to understand that I am a true creative and creatives like a little chaos and a little noise. Children’s Book Week was always fun, I’d hand draw and cut out flyers, make crafty posters to sticky tape on walls and string bunting low around the knee height book boxes enticing chubby little fingers to pull out brightly illustrated titles to keep them company on the bean bags. How wonderful that they let me experiment with my artistic (read crafty… underdeveloped but well intentioned) skills. Then, because I was also singing in bands at the time, there was one Christmas where I made the staff dress up as the nativity characters and sing carols every day for the week… yes singing in a library! Quickest version of “We Three Kings” you’ve ever heard.
They must have turned a blind eye so many times, I’d be chatting boisterously with the patrons when I should have been filing books on shelves. Side note, just like reciting times tables there’s nothing quite like the Dewey Decimal Categorisation System to stick in your head and teach you something about organisation. Heavy library bag laden patrons were seeking to check out their books and I’d be having a good old chat. If you know me… you know I love a good listen and a chat! This was all happening late naughties, pre-self-checkout machines where I actually had to hold my tongue just the right way to beep each book through the special laser thingy on the desk. I’d have to make conversation and I knew the regulars by name. It did help that they had library cards with their names on them – they are busy places libraries. What was magical about this was they would share recollections about what they were reading. What genre, authors and the stories that made them laugh, cry and learn something. It was a fantastic job! When I left there to study design (actually properly learn how to make a brochure and a poster) I continued to work casually in many local libraries and found the Thursday night and Saturday regulars to be the same kind of people. Always learning… This incredibly diverse set of life-long learners all visiting these quiet places to expand their knowledge, to lose themselves in a story and connect with words on a page was glorious. I was so fortunate to have had this experience of equality. I say equality because libraries are open to everyone and public libraries are essentially free, if you get your books back on time that is. They are one of the most potent and pure forms of democracy, in fact I can’t think of another institution that rivals them for accessibility.
It’s true that over the years libraries have had to fight for territory. With the explosion of the internet and access to information so readily available and beamed to us through our screens, libraries have innovated and tweaked their business models. They were some of the first to accommodate technology with catalogue searches. I remember logging in using MSDOS and hearing the squeal and ping-pang of it connecting. Libraries now host meetings, events, workshops and are a place of greater connection, not only to publications but to people and place. I for one say nice pivot and thank you for the lift on the shooshing.
Through my many years as a graphic designer I have been blessed to work with The State Library of Queensland and TheEdge on creative projects. It is with absolute pleasure that currently, as the creator of an organisation that is based in equality and is stewarding the sharing of authentic female leadership stories, I find myself and the Feathersome team partnering again for International Women’s Day this year. We will be hosting a You Me and a Cup of Tea on the Queensland Terrace on March 8th. I will be having courageous conversations with Anna, Nora and Prudence over cups of tea. Come along and ask your questions, fill out a One Hope to Give Postcard, sip, listen and chat with people who care for democracy, learning and equality. Be one of the first to see our pre-release journal. Can’t wait to see you there… I’ll be the one chatting away, with the biggest smile and beaming a rainbow full of gratitude for the opportunity to be once again surrounding by books, big hearts and brilliant women!