Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Children's Library

of my childhood was adjacent to the university grounds.
To get there you went down North Terrace, one of the main roads forming the boundary of the square mile of the city laid out by Colonel Light.  If you are coming from the City Railway Station you go past Parliament House and then over King William Street and then continue past Government House and the main War Memorial. Then you cross a smaller road. There is a library on the corner. No, this is not the building. There is the big new State Library building, there is the Museum and the Art Gallery and the University.
The Children's Library was tucked away behind what is now the State Library building and you could walk from there into the university grounds where there was (and still is) a much larger library. The Children's Library was housed in the old police barracks, a building leftover from colonial days.
I wonder now how often it was used because it seems to me that when we went to visit it we were the only childtren who were ever in there.
We did not go often. I am not sure my mother was particularly keen on us going at all but my father was enthusiastic. He went in and out all the time. He would return the books my brother and I had been reading and pick up more. The library staff chose them for him. They knew him well. He went in and out twice a week during the university term. We only went in the school holidays.
It was bliss. The books were shelved around the walls at child height. There were none of the brightly coloured paperbacks or even the dust jackets that we have now. The books were all in "library binding". It did not bother us, after all we knew nothing else. All we knew was that here there were books to read. We worked out "alphabetical order" and "Dewey Decimal System" for ourselves because my father would leave us while he went to "the Barr-Smith" which is the university library. 
Yes, I know libraries are not baby sitting services but my brother and I would not have thought of misbehaving in any way. We were much too busy for that. We did not require babysitting or childminding or looking after in any other way. We had books - and more books.
I wonder what modern children would make of that library? Computers did not exist. Paperbacks were still new and never seen inside a library. There were no posters on the walls. The floor was linoleum. There was a table with hard wooden chairs around it. You were expected to be "quiet".
Our local library is a riot of colour and noise. Children run around in it. They lie on the carpet or lounge in the beanbags and read. It is untidy. There are low tables and brightly coloured plastic chairs. Most of the books are paper backs. There are computer screens and computer games. There is story telling and there are all sorts of activities.
It is all absolutely marvellous. I wonder if they will remember all this when they grow up. What will a library be like when they are my age? Will there still be libraries?
My childhood library was a magical place. Will theirs have been a magical place too?


the fly in the web said...

I spent hours each week in the local Childrens' you describe it...not colourful, not luxurious, but it had books and librarians who took an interest in the children reading them.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes - and that really tall librarian? Remember her? I met her again about ten years ago and she really is/was about six feet tall. She frightened me. I liked the dumpy one who kept her glasses on a chain around her neck. Chris

catdownunder said...

Ah "Fly in the Web" you will understand perfectly then! Yes, even Chris's ultra tall librarian (and yes I do remember her) was interested in what we were reading.