In the midst of a sad and difficult year in 2020, I managed to start a new job that I love, as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria. As someone who loves reading, who knows that knowledge is power, who recognises the danger of ‘false news’ and the value of a reliable source, and who believes in inclusive public spaces, working to support the public library sector is a dream come true.
Valentine’s Day on February 14 coincides with #LibraryLoversDay. The theme for 2021 is ‘Make a date with your library’. While Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, I’m sure libraries would be happy to welcome early ‘dates’. And with the availability of ebooks, audio books, movie and music streaming services, and remote access to information databases and programs like Ancestry, there’s always online dating.
I’ve been making a few dates with libraries myself. I visited the atmospheric St Kilda Library, with its wonderful painting by Mirka Mora and original 1970s light fittings and desks and, on the same side of town, the stunning, newly renovated Sandringham Library, complete with reading nooks, craft room and forested children’s area. Last week a colleague and I travelled to south west Victoria, meeting with library managers and local councillors in Colac and Warrnambool.
Our visit also involved a quick side trip to Port Fairy to see this year’s Biblio Art Prize exhibition at Blarney Books. The brainchild of bookshop owner Jo Canham, the Biblio Art Prize matches books with artists and exhibits the fruit of this inspiration. In 2020, Jo threw her support behind authors who published works in or just prior to 2020, when launches and festivals and everything else a writer relies on to promote their book were no more. Artists were randomly allocated a title to use as inspiration for their artwork, often being given books they wouldn’t ordinarily choose to read themselves. The artwork that results from this creative practice sheds new light on the literary work, while vividly illustrating in visual language the dialogue between reader and writer. I loved the exhibition — and not just because my own 2019 novel, Mother of Pearl, inspired one of the artworks. That said, I may just have bought Isabel Szabo’s exquisitely embroidery Pearlescent Mirage…
Later this month I will be appearing at an event at Ballarat Library, chairing a session called On Reading with authors Kate Mildenhall and J P Pomare. Ballarat Libraries produced a number of these sessions online during the COVID-19 lockdown and it’s a wonderful opportunity to dive deep into a writer’s reading history and habits. Pandemic permitting, the event will be held in person at Ballarat Library on Fri 19 February 2021, 178 Doveton St N, Ballarat Central, from 7.00PM – 8.00PM. Registration details to follow.
It will be almost a year between live literary events, my last being sessions with Tara June Winch and Miriam Sved at Adelaide Writers Week on 29 Feb and 1 March 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago.
Which reminds me of something I read yesterday in The Library Book by Susan Orlean: ‘In the library, time is dammed up — not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.’
Stay tuned for more dates with libraries…and be sure to make one yourself.