Cacophony in the library

I’m going to start this post recounting a personal experience of mine from 2000. At the time I was 3 months pregnant with my second child and I was expecting a phone call from my obstetrician with some urgent blood results. I was in a meeting which was being held in a library (I was not working as a librarian at the time). My phone rang, I excused myself and went into an empty corner and answered it. Despite giving very quiet, monosyllabic responses to my obstetrician, the librarian approached me and quite loudly told me to turn my phone off and to leave the building to make phone calls. The officious librarian talked over me and was getting more and more agitated that I was not listening to her. Upon hanging up, I ignored her and made a mental note to NEVER be a librarian like that. So I want to point out from the outset that this is not about keeping a library in absolute silence. However, it is a post about libraries being quieter places and to recognise this as a positive attribute of our library spaces rather than a negative that turns libraryland into apologists. This positive attribute allows for reflective, calmer spaces that are conducive to thinking, creativity and innovation.

I like a quiet library. I like a library where you know there is a buzzed conversation but you cannot hear its detail. I like a library where the sound of fingers hitting keyboards and photocopiers printing is the norm. I like to hear the tutor leading the child through their maths homework using hushed tones, I like the parents quietly reading picture books to their pre-schoolers. And I like that occassionally this hushed space is converted to sounds electric but for an hour, for storytime, an author talk, a science presentation or a bookgroup meeting. I like running paper-plane flying competitions down the aisles of books during Open Days, I like craft-time for kids and adults (as long as I don’t have to lead it) and I like people feeling comfortable enough in the library that they use it for creativity, learning and for escape. This buzz, this muted white noise in a library is welcoming and expected.

But what I do not like is the library as a playground or a cafe. I cannot stand children playing chasings amongst the aisles of books both in childrens’ and adult sections. Aside from the grating noise, it is also compromising the safety of other library patrons. I do not want to see teens throwing a basketball over bays of books in a game of blind baskets and nor do I want to hear music being piped into the library in some weird super mall sense and I especially don’t want to have to stick my fingers in my ears to drown out the group sitting over 15 metres away. I know that this is not a popular stance to make, and that many libraries have cafes in them (I’m all for that as the cafe is then a designated talking space) and that kids should be made to feel welcome but I think libraries can do this without giving up what, for a large part of library patronage, is a place that they can come to that has relative quiet. For many people, going to the library is to escape from their already loud, busy, cluttered, over-stimulated spaces.

Now let me start, as Miss Piggy would say, with “Moi”. Up until I was 13 years old my parents ran our house as a boarding house. Until I was 8 we could have up to 20 people living in our house at a time. Predominately, these boarders were migrants, refugees and at one stage a bunch of illegal immigrants – sailors who had jumped ship in Sydney one night. We had Germans, Dutch, Italians, Indians, Greeks and Egyptians. Families, bachelors and even a Vietnam vet. As you could imagine, life was one big party. The shared living areas either had a television on or a radio or my dad’s trusty reel-to-reel (this was the 70s!) and there was always dancing. There were always kids living with us so we would all be playing games or making up plays and stories. Even when the majority of boarders left and we only had one other family living with us, we continued being visited by all our (ex-boarder) family friends. The one thing that we didn’t have was quiet in our home. Even 10 years after the last boarders moved out and my then boyfriend (now husband) would come over to visit his comment was “My God! Your house is like a sitcom. The doorbell is always ringing and you always have visitors”. Now as fun as a home like that may be, I relished quiet from a young age. And the only place to get it was the local library. I could spend my afternoons sitting in a corner not talking to anyone or talking quietly with the other kids and not having to compete for airspace. Even now, when I sit in my own home, I never turn on the TV or radio, I drive in silence and it is only me, my tinitis and the white noise of the urban world.

I am not alone in this need. Let me give you some examples of people I know though I have changed their names:


A Masters student living in a 2 bedroom flat with her host family. She shares her bedroom with 2 other girls. Her bed is her only private space. She studies at the library until closing time every day as her host family has an open door policy with many visitors. She arrives home one night when her host family advise her that they have taken on another boarder. When she points out the lack of space she is advised that they have rented out the other side of her bed and she was to top and tail with a stranger (but not to worry – it was another female). This student’s distress the next day was noticed by the staff and they helped her find emergency accommodation. The student found solace in the library, eventually worked in the industry and 20 years later is a highly effective information professional. The quiet of a library, she told me, was the quiet that she desperately need for study.

Dr John

Dr John’s parents ran a fish and chip shop. There a 6 children living in a 3 bedroom house above their shop. One room for the boys and another for the girls. They all have to work in the shop after school and if there was a busy moment you would be pulled from your room where you were doing homework to help out. For Dr John going to the library to study was his escape from a loving but busy, noisy house.


I met Sally earlier this year when I went to pick my son up from a friend’s place. She was discussing how she could no longer bear to take her kids to her council’s newly refurbished library because the books were tucked into nooks and crannies and the children’s area was designed for rough and tumble play. “I know where the playgrounds are, I know where playgroups in community centres meet. Not everything needs to be hyped yet my kids get hyped in the library. I just want to sit and read to them”.


Ben and his family had moved to his mother’s home during a renovation. He worked from home but found it impossible to concentrate as his mother cared for his 3 nieces during the day. Going to the library was a better (and cheaper) option than a noisy cafe. However, it took visiting 5 library branches before he found one that was not overwhelmingly noisy.

I believe that these library patrons are not a tiny minority. I believe that most people in the community expect a library to not be so loud that they need to use noise cancelling headphones when they use it. Nor do they expect the absolute silence required in cinemas and theatres. Certainly, many larger libraries are able to provide designated quiet areas and floors but smaller libraries will find this harder to manage particularly if they are open-plan.

However, I think it is imperative that library staff do no scoff, do not ignore and do not dismiss as unimportant the library patron who comes and asks if there are quiet spaces or for a staff member to intervene and ask someone making unreasonable noise to tone it down. The library patron with a need for a quiet is no less important than the needs of other library patrons that as librarians we are able to meet.

Breaking Open a Storyteller

Beer as storyteller interests me. It is in the same vein as In Vino Veritas. Every experience we have can be turned into a story but where do we find the opportunity to tell these stories. I love that feeling on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, when the week’s work is completed, gathering with friends to partake in some wind-down storytelling. Often people meet in bars, pubs, restaurants or in their own homes and after a few cold ones the storytelling is enabled. It gets embellished, hyperbole is thrown in and it brings on laughter and tears.

Growing up, our dinner table always had wine on it. My dad would allow us a sip each from his glass and he and mum would always tell us stories of growing up in Greece. At family parties my uncle would bring his god-awful wine which was like poison but as it was home-made all the adults would drink some. I don’t ever remember anyone getting roaring drunk. They got “How’s it going, mate” happy. There was no overimbing ( how could there be – the wine was horrid), no vomitting but there was storytelling. Each person, one after the other, each louder than the other, sometimes agreeing with each other and other times calling each other crazy as their memories were so different.

I see this happening in my own home. We often will have friends over, a few beers, a few wines. No-one ever gets drunk but we all get storytelling. And as the night progresses and we’ve had a bite to eat, the storytelling gets louder and funnier.

One of my favourite stories, is actually my husband’s. He went to Mt Athos which is a monastic community in Northern Greece with one of my cousins for four days. While they were there, they met an English professor who invited them to a mountain walk to visit a hermit. My husband’s first thought was that it seemed to be a mutually exclusive activity visiting with a hermit. Nevertheless, he accepted. Once in the hermit’s house, he was offered moonshine that the hermit himself had distilled. This too, felt like it should be mutually exclusive. He drank the moonshine and then my cousin whispered to him “I don’t drink alcohol and the hermit may think I am rude if I don’t drink mine. Can you please drink mine and I’ll pretend it was me”. I’m not sure where deceiving a hermit rates in the sinning scale but my husband kindly obliged and found himself in the peculiar situation of being drunk at the hand of a hermit in a monastic community at nine in the morning. This is a story that usually comes out when he has cracked open a storyteller.


I’m writing this because, storytelling has long been the predecessor to novels. Storytelling in families is an important way of passing down stories from our ancestors. Storytelling allows religion to be taught, reasoning to be understood, science to be examined, politics to be debated and jokes to be laughed at. I love when friends know each other so well that they finish each other’s stories, whether they are siblings, couples or friends from a long time back. I love that my kids know that when it is thundering outside it is Zeus angrily chasing Hera for she refused to make him a coffee. I love that my kids know this because this is what I have taught them and I was taught this because my parents learnt it from their own parents and it goes on.

So as it is a Friday afternoon, I will head out to the beautiful sunshine and have a storyteller with my husband and friends. I hope you all get to have a storyteller too.

Tipping one’s hat to Britannica’s bookbinders

Encyclopaedia Britannica’s decision to cease printing their leather bound knowledge tomes hit the news today. People became nostalgic, call back radio was busy with people regaling tales of their parents, teachers, neighbours as sales people, spruikers and customers. Telling the tale of the need to have a set on their shelves as a sign that they cared for their children’s education. My family was no different. We would tease my dad for reading through the Macropedia and Micropedia. Britannica was ace! I don’t mind that it is now out of print. I use the online access my library subscribes to and I treasure the 197o’s edition I do own.

What I haven’t heard anyone mention, though, is the superb craftsmanship of the Britannica (and for that part the majority of well produced reference books). The paper quality, though thin, is strong enough to suspend a volume from a single page.


I hope that Britannica preserves their binding knowledge.

I can read a book a day but I can’t blog a book a day

At the beginning of the year I said I would read a book a day. I am mostly up to date with this aim (thank you very much Picture Book obsession). However, I’m a crappy blogger and have given up posting individual items.

So today, in a phenomenal show of catch-up, I’m listing the books I’ve read with minimal commentary.

Books 26-30:

Fancy Nancy books are awesome. Pretty, colourful and all about a fancy girl discussing her daily life. She lurrrves fancy words and this is where author Jane O’Connor brilliantly entices kids into broadening their vocabulary without being preachy. This set was a quintet (a fancy word for 5) of readers – a perfect reader set! My favourite amongst this lost was The Boy from Paris.

Fancy Nancy at the museum – car sick
Fancy Nancy & the dazzling book report
Fancy Nancy poison ivy expert
Fancy Nancy sees stars
Fancy Nancy & the boy from paris

Books 31-36

Sandra Boynton is very amusing. My staple purchase for friends’ kids, she seems to be one of the few authors who can get side-splitting laughter from toddlers. Red Hat, Green Hat seems to tickle the funny bone of an 18 month old like no other book. Bravo, Ms Boynton and thank you.

Titles I read to my nephew last week:

Red hat, Green Hat
Hippos go beserk
But not the hippopotamus
Moo, baa, lalala
15 Animals

Faces (board book) fascinating (for a toddler) illustrated expression.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey is an abecedarium that is macabre and delicious. Having read a review of this old children’s book at Love2Read (thanks Amy) I read it online and relished it.


Sara Craven: I’ve been on a mini-glom of Sara Craven’s books. Dark and sad they are classic Mills & Boon. But I won’t go into detail here as I mean to write a post on her, soon.

One Night with his virgin mistress (brill but such an awful, untrue title)
Innocent on her wedding night (meh)
The Santangeli Marriage (torrid, objectionable, full of melodrama)
Dark Paradise (TSTL heroine)
Escape Me Never (autocratic, controlling alpha brute. Horrid story)
Sup With the devil (one of teh best evah M&B)


Miranda Lee – Beth and the Barbarian weird weird weird. Imagine a romance on a set from The King and I and throw in a feisty (read grating) female protagonist with the alpah male dressing weirdly. I will write about this book at a later date.

Lucy Ellis – Innocent in the Ivory Tower is a brilliant debut. Dark but simply divine book.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

So I’m pretty late to the Harry Potter party. I read the first instalment to my son and we finished it in a week. An easy page turner read, I am now a fan. And I get the Harry fan sqee.

I still have read more books that I ended up listing. But at least I have now made a kink in my bloggi g backlist.

Jesse Blackadder and The Raven’s Heart: Book 14

I read The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder as she will be talking at the NSW Readers Advisory History Seminar and I wanted to be familiar with her book before she presented it.

I struggle when I am reading historical fiction. Although I love reading history, it’s fiction counterpart has me running to my reference shelves, cross-checking events and details in the book and rarely do I find myself being lost in the story. After cross checking with several history references during the first few chapters of this book I found myself relax and lose myself into this story of an androgyne in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The story of Robert/Alison Blackadder and his/her deep abiding love for his father, the need to please him and his/her love and service to Queen Mary and Alison’s own erotic affairs with both women and men drive this complex story about the struggle for inheritances. I loved that the story was so rich, yet the language was not florid at all. A wonderful, touching tale.


Retro Romance Reading: Books 10, 11, 12 ,13

I became an obsessive fan of Mills and Boon and other category romance lines during the 1980’s when I was a young teen. So I decided to read some older titles. I also decided to combine this with the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. So here I have 4 Mills and Boon written by Australian Women Authors.


Of the four listed below, my only reread was Lynsey Stevens’ Ryan’s Return. I recall reading this as a teen and finding it – not romantic – but saddened by the actions of the adults around the two protagonists. Perhaps still a sign of the category fiction range at the time, but having a 23 year old sleep with a nearly 17 year old (both of whom were besotted with each other) feels very uncomfortable, though real, to me. For their parents then to insist on a shotgun wedding after which said 23 year old leaves without a word to anyone just worsens the feeling. To add to the mix our nearly 17 year old heroine falls pregnant and has twins. She is lucky enough to have the support of both her father and her in-laws. The main story takes place 8 years later when the hero finally returns to “claim” his wife and children. The strength of the story is that the author does not gloss over the long time the hero is gone. When it comes time to explain his absence to his children (and wife) he talks about how even adults can make mistakes, how having his hand forced made him lash out. How his behaviour during the first two years was abominable and though not excusing himself, it certainly explained some of his actions. As per most Mills and Boon, there is a redemptive Happily Ever After and one that, as a reader, I felt comfortable with. I also liked the sex scenes which, though they were signature torrid, they were not graphic nor did they use eyebrow raising allusions. For a category romance published over 30 years ago, I certainly felt it had aged well and was still readable and I can certainly understand why I have held onto my copy for all these years.

My other 3 choices I found in a second-hand bookshop. 2 titles were by Emma Darcy and one by Valerie Parv.

A Very Stylish Affair by Emma Darcy was perhaps my least favourite of the 4 books though readable enough that I finished it in a day. The out of the bottle red headed feisty heroine grated on my nerves as did the less than professional alpha lawyer hero. Of course, there was the stunning other woman also on the scene with the obligatory lack of communication and misunderstandings between the leading protagonists. I am still not sure why I read this book to completion…perhaps because I really liked the Lindfield/Sydney setting.


On a completely different note, Emma Darcy’s The Shining of Love was compelling. Part of a series of books around a family of fostered siblings, this Mills and Boon has the out of the ordinary set up of the female protagonist being married (to a man she loved and respected) and turning down the male protagonist who fell in love with her at first sight and begs her to leave her husband (which she doesn’t). The book spans 18 months, there are parallel missing child storylines, the obligatory “other woman” and a series of coincidences that could have been trite but were handled very well by the author. Though I didn’t feel convinced by the protagonists as a couple, I did however, love the rest of the story.

Last of the pick was Valerie Parv’s Tasmanian Devil. Here is another book that I really enjoyed. A twist on the “alone on a desert island heiress learning to fend for herself” storyline, this is a classic Mills and Boon in that there was an alpha man saving his womAn, jealousies, misunderstandings and many other over the top, melodramatic scenes which make for a thoroughly enjoyable story. I particularly loved the sex scenes which were not at all graphic but filled with swoony allusions. My favourite line was:

Having read these four titles, I will continue on my journey for more Mills and Boon Australian publications throughout this year.

Book 1: It’s Always Been You by Victoria Dahl

This book took me 6 weeks to finish. This is not indicative of a sluggish read but more a sign of my exhaustion working on my house renovation that I could barely manage a chapter a day. Though half way through the book I found myself sneaking off to the hardware shop to “buy a screw/doorhandle/paint/thingmejob” when in actual fact I was driving around the corner, reading a chapter and then returning (remarkably early) shaking my head and claiming that the shop had run out of screw/doorhandle/paint/thingmejob.


A lovely read! I liked it muchly. I enjoy Victoria Dahls writing and It’s Always Been You uses the teen romance separated by meddling parents meet up years later trope that I love. Great characters, hot sex scenes, English countryside, and a beautiful blue dress. Go forth and read it too!