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The incalculable cultural significance of The Library

Library memories

When I think back over my childhood, and how I spent time, I remember libraries. For a long time I lived in a country town, and during school holidays, the wait between the return of the mobile library seemed endless. Then it would return, I’d read the books in a couple of days, and the long wait would begin anew. In my recollections, I read everything in that van, except the Mills & Boon and Barbara Cartlands.

At school, primary and secondary, the library was my one constant, reliable friend, and the librarians appreciated me in a way, I felt, that fellow classmates did not. They went out of their way to foster my reading habits. We would exchange ideas, they would recommend books – they even purchased books with individual readers in mind – and would call parents if they were concerned about reading appetites. This relationship changed in university, but I was still completely dependent on the library for my research.

State Library VictoriaYet I recently realised that I now rarely physically visit the library. I usually conduct my research from my home office where I can log onto journals and publications through my university library’s portal. And these days, I generally buy all my books, even the expensive research texts.

But this development worries me. It’s not just that technology has changed my relationship with the library, it’s that I no longer think of the library in the same way, as a place of sanctuary. Well, this changes today.

Read the rest of the essay over at Meanland.

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Jacinda Woodhead is the editor of Overland. Her PhD research examined abortion politics in Australia and nonfiction as political intervention.

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