Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In praise of public libraries

I've a Sydney Morning Herald 'Life and Style' column out today, on public libraries: 'Mind-full: adventures of a different kind'.

I'm arguing that libraries are more than hubs for digital data: they make psychological, social and physical contributions to a community's well-being. A sample:
Libraries provide locals with a continually refreshed stream of words: picture books, author talks, language kits. They have experts to choose just the right Mem Fox for my daughter and Batman for me. They guide patrons to ancient translations and the newest historical romance vampire fiction. ("I'm looking for something like Heyer crossed with Meyer.") These are the currents in which authors swim. 
Which brings us to another virtue. Libraries are also civic sanctuaries for people. The physical spaces are vital. The light and warmth, the reading nooks, the comfortable chairs and neat cubicles - they invite patient, attentive reading and writing. They also attract play and intimacy. As I write, a grandfather is saying "B for 'bird', a yellow bird," to a toddler replying with "burr, burr". I have read to my daughter here countless times, often with other children sitting down and listening, open-eyed.
Libraries, in this, have an educational, but also a psychological and social, role. At their best, they provide equal support for reflective solitude and quiet company. They do what cafes have done for centuries, but they do it gratis, and with books ready to hand.
(Photo: Boroondara News)


Emma A said...

I work in a public library and I wanted to let you know how much I loved your article. I have emailed it around to my fellow workers to enjoy also, and have had great comments about it. You really captured for me the beauty and special feel of being in a library. I love the physicality of it, and that a library space offers a lot more than a purely digital experience of reading ever can. Like you say, we humans are still ourselves analogue creatures. Dinosaurs that we are!

Damon Young said...

Thanks, Emma. Chuffed to hear that.