Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The library as a sanctuary for the Lost (or, "Visiting Melbourne: Guest of State Library of Victoria)

As with all my first-time one-person visits to a new country/ city, I was a stranger in a strange city.

It's winter here, in Melbourne.

I was cold. A little hungry. Feeling very alone.

No matter how many countries I've been too, how many working trips I've been sent, I feel anxious in a totally new place.

It's thanks to the State Library of Victoria that my colleague and I are here. To share NLB's perspective and experience at their strategic retreat they have organised for Victorian public library managers and senior State Library staff.
Public Libraries Victoria - Victorian Library Managers Retreat

But my gratitude is dulled by my own lack of sophistication in coping in a new city. My anxiety was compounded by not knowing where and when I would be meeting my colleague, as well as the specifics of the next few days itinerary (some people are perfectly comfortable with uncertainty; I'm not one of those persons).

After I settled into my hotel room, I took a 15 minute walk to the State Library (their equivalent of a National Library, if Melbourne was an independent city-state like Singapore).

"Very stately," was my visceral thought.
State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

There were young people lying on the grass like it was a warm summer day and not the cold blustery windy day that it was.
State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

Stepping into the library dispelled all the uncertainties I've felt so far, in Melbourne. I knew enough of libraries to know I wouldn't be stopped.

I was perfectly anonymous.

After a few minutes inside, it quickly dawned on me that the library was like a place of worship. It was comforting and familiar; a sanctuary for those who feel lost in a new place.

Lest you misunderstand that the State Library of Victoria was some dark, musty and unused building, it's pretty "happening". I saw a lot of young people there. Reminded me of how our own National Library is popular with the trendy youngsters.

State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

Right at the entrance was an arrangement of books on shelf. Says "bookstore" (so simple and cool).

Went further in and up, till I reached a large expansive room that had the musty smell of books.
State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

It wasn't an unpleasant smell. In fact, I immediately thought the familiar bookish library smell was a contrast to the smart and swanky entrance and other sections.

State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010 State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

I asked a librarian if I could take photographs. She said as long as I didn't intrude on others by taking their pictures. I smiled and said they have a liberal policy (for a National/ State library).

I liked that, as in the library should be encouraging people to promote it via online sharing.

Here's a room that was dedicated to a Chess collection. Some people were engaged in chess games. The room also doubled up as a quiet-reading area.
State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

On my way out, I noticed a section called Experimedia.
State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

Peering inside, it was clear young people were openly playing digital Wii and Xbox games.
State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

State Library of Victoria, Jul 2010

Overall impressions
There was a feeling that this was a very well used, and stately, academic library. And somehow there's a welcoming feeling.

A large part has to do with the decor, I'm sure. Or maybe it's the way the staff are around, and yet not specifically looking at you (giving you the impression that you're being watched).

I've visited libraries of similar size, design and style. Older buildings tend to give me the cold and impersonal feeling. But definitely not the State Library of Victoria.

I'm sitting in the Experimedia room, on a comfortable seat, putting down my thoughts on my Nokia E71.

The combination of my earlier anxieties and the comfort of this library has made me experience the library in a totally different way. The key word was "experience"; not "use". I could imagine how a new immigrant might feel. Or an out-of-state citizen moving into a new place, alone.

I'm still a stranger in this new city.

But for now, in the library, I'm feeling perfectly at home.


  1. Wah you typed all that with your handphone? Power lah you!

  2. I'm pretty fast with thumb-typing :)

  3. I've spent many days researching at this library for my papers during my studying stint at Melb Uni.

    All books are for reference only and cannot be borrowed out, but I love how I can "pre-order" the titles before hand online and simply pick it up at the service counter FOC.

    The lawn outside the Library is a popular spot for weekend demonstrations too.

    Break dancing competition outside the library

    Global Day of Protest against the Junta

  4. There were lots of students studying there. Though I couldn't tell if they were referencing the library books or not. Still, it's the people that make the library a lively place. Hmm, I gather the area outside the SLV is treated like a public space, so it's freely used by the public.

  5. The chess room reminded me of those ah peks in the shop lot playing chess outside TPPL!

    Very nicely written :)

  6. The library looks so elegant! Makes me want to visit :)

  7. Loved the fact that the library allowed you to take pics and, as you say, allowed you to share them. Intellectual copyright vs. emulation being the sincerest form of flattery

  8. Thanks for sharing! :) Wah... a chess section! And the Experimedia section looks pretty interesting, too.

    Hope you'll enjoy the rest of your stay in Melb!

  9. Wow, didn't know this post struck a chord with some many librarians. Nice to see familiar blogger nick names here again! :)

  10. A very interesting blog on a public library at various places outside Singapore to share your rich experiences for others to glean and learn. Cheers!


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