by Edwina Harvey
Late last year I left the university library where I had worked for 30 years.
I’d seen a lot of changes over that time. When I started, we were still using hand-written loans cards, and knew most of the students and academics by name. We got to know their lives and what subjects they were interested in so if we saw a new book or magazine article they might want to read, we could point it out to them.
When I finished, paper-based knowledge was being discarded. Not offered to people who might consider it of value, but dumped as landfill because it was considered inferior by the managers of the establishment, though text books were still being borrowed and old printed journals researched because their contents aren’t on line yet. The specialised service we used to be so proud to give had been eroded away. You aren’t expected to get to know your clients anymore – there’s not enough time. Statistics are kept on how many customers you’ve served in an hour, not how well you’ve served them, not how satisfied they are that their questions have been answered and their needs met.
We encouraged library users to borrow their own books at self-serve stations not dissimilar to the Do-It-Yourself pay stations creeping into more and more supermarkets these days, and there were plans being put in place that borrowers also return their books through the self-serve units too. Students pay a lot of money to go to university, surely they deserve a bit of service for investing in their future?
I thought I’d find it hard getting another job because of my age, but through a stroke of luck, I met an acquaintance who remembered I worked in a library (or used to). Would I be interested in a bit of casual library work at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts? You bet I would!
A few years ago I first visited the SMSA library, and found it a bright, welcoming space—and it's right in the centre of Sydney. On first sight I thought it would be a wonderful place to work. Now I have that opportunity.
Not only is it a beautifully appointed library, but the two librarians who run it believe in the values that drew me into library work in the first place: they feel it’s important to get to know the library users by name, learn their interests so they can say, “Here’s something I thought you might be interested in.” The emphasis is on how well you can serve the people who use your library. I’m in heaven! I’ve found a bastion of civility and friendship.
The SMSA library isn’t large, but it’s not crowded either. It’s devoted primarily to fiction books, though there’s some non-fiction such as books about Australia. Magazines are also on offer. Two internet terminals sit on a nice wooden desk down near the windows. Members are requested to limit their time on the computer to 30 minutes a day. If both terminals are occupied, other patrons wait patiently for their turn to use them. Coming from a university background where arguments over computer usage regularly broke out, this polite, genteel approach is a wonder to behold for me.
I was recently challenged about my feelings on the library not supplying DVD’s, audio books, e-books and the likes. My feelings are that a library exists to meet the need of its patrons. And as the SMSA has been going for 179 years, clearly its library does that.
To be able to borrow from the SMSA library, you need to join the association, but the annual fee of $15 ($10 concession) entitles you to discounts for talks on a wide variety of subjects held on the premises, to attend the AGM and other meetings, as well as having access to the library. As the loan period on all but new books is 8 weeks, members from Sydney’s outskirts who can’t get into the city regularly have the opportunity to borrow. The longer loan times also suits slower readers – like me.
I don’t know how long it will take me to learn the names of the regular library users, or their reading preferences. But I LOVE my job! It’s so good to be working in a library where books and the people who enjoy reading them are valued.
Edwina Harvey has worked in a university library in Australia for 30 years. Recently she started working casually at the SMSA library, and reconnected with the passion that drew her to library work in the first place. Edwina is also a writer, editor. ceramic and silk artist. You can view her work at www.celestialcobbler.com
That was the bio she gave me when I asked for one. But I'll add that
- I asked her to write this piece because she is so passionate about matchmaking.
- Edwina Harvey is also a writer of fiction.
- I highly recommend her children's book The Whale's Tale—but don't take my word for it. Read Rod MacDonald's review in SF CrowsNest. I nagged Edwina to make this attractive softbound edition more easily available internationally—but like most Australian-published works, international postage snagged possibilities. So now I'm delighted to announce that The Whale's Tale is now sold as an ebook by another favourite of mine, Cheryl Morgan's Wizard's Tower Bookstore.
I LOVE also recommending these sites:
Heather Morrison's The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics.
"Imagine a world where anyone can instantly access all of the world's scholarly knowledge - as profound a change as the invention of the printing press. Technically, this is within reach. All that is needed is a little imagination, to reconsider the economics of scholarly communications from a poetic viewpoint."
Morrison and her like don't just imagine. It takes a lot of work.
John Klima's site and his links
Better World Books