Last week I visited the university library. This should not be a notable event but, sadly, in these days of immediate online, article and ebook reading, it is all too rare. The impetus for the visit to the library was not bookish; my father (a semi-retired library building consultant) and I took a tour of the automated retrieval system (aka robotic book collection). Thanks to Alison Briggs, Manager, Library Space and Facility Planning, for generously giving us her time.
The above photograph is the university library in the late 1960s. It looks quite different now:
I spent much of my childhood in libraries (which even in the 80s looked more like the top photo). I was a prolific reader and frequent visitor to the local public library. I still remember mind-blowing early forays into science fiction:
These books triggered a lifelong love of speculative and dystopian fiction. But my favourite library-related activity was to visit my father’s workplace: the State Library of New South Wales. The memories of this space rush in: walking the marble Tasman Map (now roped off to protect it from marauding children), the large bust of Shakespeare, the statue of Matthew Flinder’s cat Trim, and the tri-level bookshelves of the Mitchell Reading Room. Before the Macquarie Street building was opened (in 1988), my father had an office in a demountable building on the roof. As a child, I thought my father’s job involved reading books, watering his pot plants and napping in a sun lounger. Similarly, my daughter thinks my job involves chatting with people over coffee—thanks to @acahacker I am now keeping a record of these ‘professional conversations’.
Dad worked at the State Library for close on 40 years and his work was interconnected with the building and its people. Here’s a recent biography of my father, updated on the occasion of receiving the H C L Anderson award, which will be of particular interest to those who enjoy library history and building. It has such a lovely turn of phrase, please indulge me while I pay homage to him (note that his own speech on the occasion was somewhat more humble):
Every profession needs its chroniclers: David Jones is a chronicler extraordinaire. Future historians and commentators will find a rich source in his publications and it is safe to predict that they and he, in time, will be the subject of close study by future generations of researchers. They will marvel, as we do today, at the energy, output and diversity of this genuine prodigy. What they may not be able to perceive, at that remove, is the nature of the man himself. He is erudite, in the true sense of that word, his vocabulary and reading is rich beyond measure. Puckish, as in the sense of wry, humorous, but never to be underestimated, nor taken lightly. Engaging: it is not possible to ignore him, and in debate, unusual to get the better of him. Scholarly, but not pedantic, he has a rich, ripe and Rabelaisian sense of humour, which may be genetic, for his children also have it in good measure, as does his wife, partner and mainstay, Mary. He is – to the core – a true librarian, believing passionately in the power of print, and possibly one of the most committed members the professional association has ever had.
So, three intentions for a slow academic this year: maintain that sense of humour, visit the university library regularly, and read more books. First request on my list: Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus.