I have clear memories of all the libraries in my life -- from the soaring glass walls of the Ela Beach library in Port Moresby, to the cupboard sized room (perhaps it actually was a storeroom?) at Tarangau Primary in Mt Hagen, where the headmistress growled at me for borrowing books that were "too old" for me, to the blissful hours I spent on library duty, stamping and sorting, in the cavernous library at my secondary school. There has never been a time of my life when I didn't belong to at least one library. Even when I spent six months in Scotland, I made a beeline for the Stockbridge Library in Edinburgh, curled up in the democratic warmth, and wrote a suite of short stories.
Our school's library has been a little bit neglected lately (note: the picture above is not our library. It is a random library I lifted off Google.) Our library used to live in a gorgeous purpose-built space with a mezzanine, but the year Alice started, that space was turned into the Prep Unit and the library was shunted upstairs into a disused classroom.
Staff shortages (and other priorities) meant that over the last few years we've had a part-time librarian at best, or at worst, only parent volunteers and classroom teachers to keep the library going. At least ours is still open. One nearby school has closed its library altogether; at another, the children can access the library only once a fortnight (attendance optional), and only if a parent is available to process the borrowing.
We're lucky. We're getting one of those snazzy new economic-stimulus buildings, four classrooms with a space in the middle which is designated a "library." Woo-hoo! A group of book-loving parents are starting to organise ourselves to make sure this opportunity to revitalise our precious library doesn't slip away.
Our first job is to do a stocktake. I fear it might not take long. A lot of books have been culled in the last few years, sold off at fetes and fundraisers. The problem is that everyone has their own idea about what makes a book cull-worthy.
Mum #1: Oh, those revolting old books. So tatty!
Mum/Booklover: Oh those wonderful classics -- they're old but they can be re-covered. They might even be valuable!
Teacher #1: (rolls eyes) Please, get rid of all those terrible old-fashioned books full of mums bringing slippers to dad and cooking his dinner! So un-PC!
Mum #2: Some of those books have guns in them, we'd better throw those out.
Dad #1: All those out-of-date non-fiction books must go. Look at this "computer" book, it's a disgrace!
Dad #2: We need books that relate to the curriculum. If it's not relevant, it can go.
At this rate, we'll have no books left! And that wouldn't really matter, if we had a bottomless pot of money with which to buy gorgeous new shiny books to fill the shelves, but of course we don't. And even a nice fat wad of cash doesn't buy you very many books, sadly. Not to mention comfy chairs or beanbags, or a new computer cataloguing system, or nice new shelves on castors, or some audio-books, or DVDs, or (wildest dreams) a full-time teacher-librarian, or any of the other things we'd like.
But because we all love books, we all remember the libraries of our own childhoods, and we all believe that the library is too important to neglect any longer, WE WILL FIND A WAY!!
We will find a way.