Libraries: a personal history

This afternoon, I applied to the Masters of Information Management program at RMIT.

I think that means I’m a Level 0 Library Nerd.

As part of the application, I had to write a personal statement about why I wanted to study information management. I gave them the proper, professional answer, which I’ll get to in another post. But this is the first post on this blog, so I wanted to write a personal personal statement.

By which I mean: my personal history with libraries.

The first library I remember: the Heatherdale Primary School library, a separate orange brick building next to the asphalt sports area. I discovered Asterix and Tintin there, and later John Christopher’s The Death of Grass and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. I also remember sitting at one of the tables in there as I filled out the order form in the Book Club catalogue for a strange-sounding book called The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, which lead to a whole different sort of nerdery.

Heatherdale Primary is gone now, replaced by suburban townhouses. I don’t know what happened to the library books.

The Nunawading Public Library is still there, although it’s been decades since I last visited. That’s where I used to borrow books about marine biology, and BASIC computer programming. I wanted to be a marine biologist as a child. Somehow the computers won.

High School: Wesley College, Glen Waverley campus. Late afternoon sunlight streaming through the library’s large glass windows. Browsing idly, I find a book called Shadowlands by Peter Straub. The cover is a large owl swooping out of a man’s coat. It’s a dark and troubling story, about the price of magic and danger of fairytales. It still haunts my imagination.

University. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain leads to Dungeons & Dragons, which leads to Call of Cthulhu. My friends and I scour the shelves of the Baillieu Library for esoteric lore that we can use in our campaigns. I find The Golden Bough, and Frazer’s neat classifications of sympathetic and imitative magic.

University is also where I discover the Rowden White Library, my favourite of all libraries. There are signs on the desks requesting that students “please do not study“. The RWL’s Calvin and Hobbes collection leads me to The Dark Knight Returns, and then The Sandman: A Doll’s House and Love and Rockets. My lifelong love affair with comics begins here.

The Rowden White is also where I discover Iain Banks. As I wrote when he announced that he had terminal cancer, Banks isn’t merely influential on my goals as a writer, he’s definitional.

And one of my most precious memories of the RWL: in 1991, I’m one of a dozen people who gather between the RWL stacks to listen to Angela Carter read one of her new short stories. I have been obsessed with Angela Carter ever since my dad took me to a screening of The Company of Wolves at the Valhalla cinema when I was 13.

Within a year of the reading, Carter has passed away.

1998: after three years in the workforce, I go back and study a Graduate Diploma of Animation and Interactive Media at RMIT. As my major project, I create a choose-your-own-adventure style interactive comic called Library of Ashes. It’s about a thief trying to steal the last surviving copy of Callimachus’ Pinakes, the catalogue of the burnt Library of Alexandria.

2011: I try to write a novel.  After failing to make progress writing at home, I take my laptop down to the Redmond Barry Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria. When I have a spare fifteen minutes with the Scottish writer Alan Bissett, and I’m keen to make him love Melbourne as much as I do, I take him on a tour of the State Library.

2014: I finish the novel. I start work on the next one. The next one is a YA fantasy set in the ruins of a enormous fractal library – a bookcase the size of a city made up of bookcases the size of city blocks, made up in turn of bookcases the size of skyscrapers.

While I’m writing it, the Library at The Dock opens. I fall in love with it on my first visit. Right, I think to myself, as I explore the computer lab and the makerspaces and the recording studio. This is what a library is these days. Going to the Library every Saturday morning to work on my novel becomes a ritual.

2015: I get sick. Unable-to-leave-the-house-for-three-months sick. Recovery is slow. One of the my milestones is catching the 48 tram again down to the Library at The Dock.

Three hours ago: I hit SUBMIT on my application for the Masters of Information Management, and take my first step in joining the Tribe of the Library.

And all this is without talking about my fictional libraries: the Library of Dreams, the Library of Babel, the Hogwarts library, the Orne Library at Miskatonic U, the planet-sized Library infested with the Vashta Nerada…

I’ll talk about my professional reasons for studying Information Management in my next post. But I wanted to start here with the real reason, the deep and secret reason hidden in my heart: libraries are a part of our souls.


About davidwitteveen

IT person. Zine Maker. Level 0 Library Nerd. Doctor Who fan.
This entry was posted in ideas worth stealing, library nerding and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Libraries: a personal history

  1. Updated to link to the RWL, and to include my story about hearing Angles Carter read there a year before she died.


  2. Pingback: Career as a Question | LIBRARY_3000

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