Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Passion and Paradise

Books are my passion and libraries are my paradise.
I can remember the very first time I ever joined a library. I was very young. My sisters and I always caught the bus home but, for some reason my Mum met me after school on this particular day. It was possibly a half-holiday. Half-holidays, when granted, were always on a Friday and were to celebrate civic happenings such as Arbour Day or Commonwealth Day. My 2 older sisters who are 6 and 4 years older than me, weren't with us. They had probably been allowed to walk home, or perhaps they had taken their bikes that day.

Anyway, Mum had decided that the time had come for me to become a library patron. The library was just across the road from school and when I visited Adelaide a couple of years ago I found to my delight that the building is still there.

However when I crossed the road to take a photo of the foundation stone, this is what I found:

Well I distinctly remember joining that library in the mid-1950s, but the foundation stone says it was officially opened in 1980. Surely it didn't take the city fathers over 30 years to finally give it an official opening! Hmm ... this will require some looking into I think.

I can remember the first book I chose in that library. It was this,
but when I showed it to Mum, she gently told me that I would probably be too difficult for me to read and I had to put it back. I can't remember what I did borrow, but for some reason this book has remained firmly lodged in my memory. Many, many years later I found a copy of it in one of those sales of culled library books and I bought it for 50 cents. So I finally did get to read it. It was a good story. These days you can still buy a copy of this book from Alibris  and it will cost $26.74

The other thing that sticks in my memory about this library is that it wasn't free. You actually had to pay to borrow a book. For children it was 1 penny per book. This is what a penny looked like :
I don't remember any other trips to this library. Maybe there weren't any. Perhaps a penny couldn't be spared very often. I do vaguely recall Mum saying something about borrowing from the Children's Library in the city being free and my next memories of library borrowing are of the Children's Library. Yep, that was my Mum - pay threepence 

to catch the bus to the city so that you can borrow books for free, rather than go to a closer library and have to pay one penny to borrow a book. To be fair, I imagine her thinking was that you could borrow multiple books for free at the Children's Library whereas at the penny library each individual book cost a penny to borrow. I must say I'm very glad she thought that way.

Oh how I loved that Children's Library! It was situated off North Terrace. Walking down the mysterious lane-way, to get to the library seemed to me to be an adventure in itself. Here were the back entrances to the adult library, the museum and the art gallery. Did it go down as far as the university? I'm not sure. Eventually I would arrive at the library's entrance and it was not just an ordinary entrance. Heavens no.

Firstly there was the portal to be passed through. Yes a magnificent stone portal! What better metaphor for being transported into other worlds could there possibly be than a stone portal, I ask you. The State Library of South Australia has kindly granted me permission to post the following photo taken circa 1960.
So, through the portal, across the courtyard, under the balcony and into the delights of shelves of books I'd go. Here I became friends with, among others,  Pippy Longstocking, The Secret Seven, and The Melendy family

Some years later a new children's library was built, but to me, it didn't seem to have the same magical allure as the old Children's library, or even the penny library. I loved it almost as much though. Well, it was new, it was easier to get to and it too, had wonderful books, 

Those experiences were the beginning of my life-long love affair with libraries and with children's literature. 

So dear children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren now you know why (after a couple of false starts career-wise) I eventually became a teacher-librarian.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Gabriel Garcia Marquez who said:

"I've always imagined heaven to be a kind of library." I hope it is.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My (Reading) Childhood

Here I am back again after a very long time away from this space. Another birthday has gone by and yet another is lurking on the (not distant enough) horizon. Daughter and Son, Grandchildren, and now, Great-Grandchildren, I can absolutely assure you that the time between birthdays does get shorter the older you get. I can also tell you that when you get to my age it is entirely possible that you may not view this as a "good thing".

But that's by the by.

This year is the National Year of Reading here in Australia all sorts of fantastic activities have been planned to encourage us all to read. I myself need no encouragement and I have my Mum to thank for my love of stories, books and reading. I've been an avid reader since ... well since ... I learnt to readBefore I learnt to read I listened to stories. 

I don't remember my Mum reading to me, but I do remember that she ensured that our radio was tuned in to the ABC for Kindergarten of the Air each day when I was a toddler, and I think these are my first memories of hearing stories. I can still recall the delicious feeling of anticipation as I heard the words "Once upon a time ...". I get that same feeling these days, whenever I open a new novel to the first page.

This is a picture from the ABC's Pool website. The child isn't me of course, but I imagine I would have looked as transfixed as this little one did, when listening to Kindergarten of the Air. Our radio (which was called "the wireless" back then) was very similar, but it was made of dark brown Bakelite

My Mum also made sure that my sisters and I were surrounded by books at home. Every Christmas each of us would get a new one. That's how I discovered Noddy and Big Ears (Enid Blyton), Milly-Molly-Mandy (Joyce Lankester Brisley), and the Susan series (Jane Shaw) among lots of others.

There were always magazines and newspapers strewn about our house too. Mum would buy the Women's Weekly and the New Idea, which incidentally did usually feature some new ideas - unlike the celebrity gossip stuff it's filled with these days. These had children's sections which generally had a short story or two in them. 

Did we have comics? I vaguely remember reading Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics, but they may have belonged to my boy cousins. They had big piles of them stashed under their bunk beds. I used to wish I had both of those things - piles of comics and a bunk bed to stash them under.

There's one thing I am certain of, and that is that our childhood home was filled with literature of one kind or another thanks to our wonderful Mum.

Then there was the Library ... but that's a story for next week's post.