I find the urge to begin a blog with ” When I was a boy,” almost irresistible.
So…When I was a boy in the 1950s, I was a regular visitor to the Remuera Public Library in Auckland.
This is the library from across busy Remuera Road
This is the children’s section
This, by contrast, is the Geelong Regional Library
And its children’s section
The Geelong Library and Heritage Centre (GLHC) is one of four libraries worldwide to be nominated for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Public Library of the Year Award.
In fairness to the old Remuera public library, this was its predecessor.
So it was a step up.
It is also worth remembering that public buildings were very much a reflection of the cultural and intellectual ethos of the time. In the first part of the 20th century in New Zealand, public buildings such as libraries would reflect a recognition of the past in terms of architectural style. Libraries were seen as custodians of a cultural history as well as providing for recreational reading for the general public.
Wellington Public Library
Now, libraries such as the one in Geelong are not only custodians of a cultural history but also hubs for the general public to access the most up-to-date information technology. The architecture of the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre looks to the future rather than to the past and seeks, through its design, to position itself in a modern world.
The idea for this post was triggered by a program on the ABC which showed children in the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre being taught computer programming by a robot.
Here’s a short list of what the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre is offering over the school holidays: Robotics @ your library, Which Witch? The Wicked Witch!, Secret Spy Institute, Upcycled Story, Super Bear Story Time, Super School, Super Box Cars.
I remember an experience in the Remuera public library where a well-meaning librarian endeavoured to guide me out of the adult reading section (I was 10), where I was an avid reader of World War II/Battle of Britain histories, to the children’s section saying, “There are lots of good books for children in here.” I looked, and there weren’t. And I wasn’t interested in good books for children anyhow.
But I was more interested in these books. WWII had only ended 10 years ago and this was cultural history that I was absorbing.
I think I borrowed and read almost the complete set (78) of these.
Welcome to the library of the 1950’s and its lurid potboilers.
Some years later, in the mid-1960s I was teaching at the Bayfield school in Ponsonby. Every second Friday, I would take my class down to the Leys Institute Public Library, pictured here in 1905 and later with a facelift.
I remember the expression of disbelief when I marched 43 children into the library and told the librarian that I wanted to sign them all up as members.
We also had the School’s Library Service which would lend teachers books for their classes. These guys really did have good books for children.
I would go in and select around 50 books for the class, bundle them into a big box, load them into my car and take them back to Bayfield to distribute to the class. Once a month I will have to return the books. Usually, there weren’t 50.
“You’re short of two books,” I would be told.
“Well, someone must have really liked those two.”
The great thing was that the people in the School’s Library Service seemed to accept that this was a reasonable price for getting good literature into classrooms.
In those days, the emphasis for libraries was very much on books. When we look at what the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre is doing, the focus has broadened in ways that were unimaginable in the 1960s.
As with so many public institutions, the focus is now on the institution’s place in a community.
Family Day at the Richmond Library
The Melbourne Museum has a superb Children’s Galley which is not very museumy but a huge amount of fun for kids. The NGV has installations designed to link art an play for young visitors. My grandson sees the Art gallery and the Museum as a natural extension of his own backyard.
Winton at the carwash installation at NGV
So to conclude, when I was a boy, things were not nearly as good as they are now.