In Praise of Libraries

If I could only go to a library…Ros in sandpit

This is a sad story. When I was growing up in the depths of the country, far away from human habitation and civilised society, there were no libraries. At least, there were none until I turned about 15, when a “mobile library”, a massive bus filled with books, would trundle through the little hamlet where I lived about every two weeks. I can still recall the joy of my first visit to the library bus. It was equivalent to how young people today might feel when they get their first mobile phone, i-pod or other fancy gadget.

Imagine the joy of a country bumpkin like me when I came to the city and discovered public libraries. You could join for nothing! They stayed in one place! You could take out unlimited books! I was filled with delight and greed for all those wonderful free books. And even now, when I leave a library with 25 books in a huge bag, I feel like a child at Christmas. I can hardly believe that our society provides such a wild, indulgent experience.

State Library of Victoria Reading Room with the glass dome overhead

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Are you thinking, “Ms Green, get a life”? Of course you are. But I contend that libraries are an important part of our democratic and fairly enlightened society, as are elections, newspapers, juries, the rule of law and free universal education. Libraries make knowledge democratic. The internet helps, but not everyone can afford it – and it’s not always trustworthy either.

Libraries are usually ruled by educated people (often wearing glasses and hand-knits, you may think) who check what enters their catalogues. They cull the rubbish. They leave the gems. It may not always work perfectly, and it may not seem like a glamorous task, but by the end of this process you have, in any public library, a storehouse of knowledge, a treasure-chest of books and primary sources to help you as you study.

On Thursday at the State Library, one student asked our guide whether homeless people could use the library. “Of course,” she replied. That’s why I say our society is only fairly enlightened; we let people be homeless but not bookless. Perhaps when you grow up you will be able to help establish a fairer society where all people can have books and homes.

Anyway, when Redmond Barry set up the State Library in the 1850s, it was a proud moment in our history. (He went on to condemn Ned Kelly to death, a dramatic and memorable moment, but that’s another story.)

Divya and Emma in Experimedia Daniel Girls with calligraphy

Divya and Emma in Experimedia; Daniel doing calligraphy; the girls concentrate on their work…

As thinkers, dreamers and historians, your starting-point and your ongoing inspiration can be your public library. You can learn ANYTHING because of public libraries. You don’t need money or fancy equipment, just a library card. And every now and then, as you revel in your reading, your knowledge, your power to learn and grow and think for yourself, remember that in the Middle Ages, few people had this opportunity. Back then, knowledge was in the hands of a few – and they didn’t always use it wisely. Here and now, we can all be in the know.

Use your knowledge wisely and for the common good! Have a great time!

Lachlan Lachlan, kellie and aaron

Lachlan works on his artistry and challenges Aaron to a medieval task…

Rory Eck-jin Stephen and chris

Rory and Eck-Jin master calligraphy; Stephen and Chris try out something more modern

The most embarrassing moment on our State Library excursion: our guide had just instilled into all of us the importance of quiet before we entered the stately Reading Room, with its old wooden desks, green lights and dome glass ceiling. We were all hushed and reverent as we entered, despite the over-consumption of sweets at Melbourne Central at lunchtime. Then a student’s phone blared out and it wasn’t an inconspicuous ring-tone; it was “Who let the dogs out?” I hope our school is not banned for ever from the august rooms of the State Library.
Kind regards,
Ms Green.

Tasks for today:

Write a comment in which you say what you liked about the State Library and our excursion and what part of it you might like to revisit.

Go to this link to view a brief video of the beautiful manuscripts in “The Medieval Imagination” display at the State Library last year
Browse through a gallery of medieval manuscripts (ensure that you click to see the largest version)
Read the post below and start preparing for the test on Thursday.

Print out any exercises you haven’t printed already, paste them in your workbook and hand it in to me.

Class Mosaics

Aaron's mosaicThere were some creative Roman mosaics being made in class on Tuesday. In one particularly memorable one, a student designed a mosaic of an elephant squirting water on my head. Happily Sadly I do not have a copy of this one to show you, but I do have Aaron’s mosaic of a Roman soldier. Well done, Aaron!

Please email me any other clever designs (even of elephants). The site, if you’d like to visit again, is . Have a great weekend!

Kind regards,