29 August 2014: libraries doing it tough
Laurence Aberhart, Dunrobbin-Edievale, Otago, 25 June 2012, silver gelatin, gold & selenium toned, 193 x 243 mm, Courtesy of Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.
Libraries are doing it tough. Never have they been so popular (see the American-based but locally relevant PEW study, ‘The library in the city’), and yet so under-funded. The sector continues to grapple with cuts, often leading to reductions in staff, services, book access, and occasionally branch closures. The statistics behind some of the cuts are revealing. In 1939 when the NSW Library Act was first introduced, the state contributed 50 percent of the funding. By 1980 that contribution had fallen to 23 percent. Today, the state contributes just seven percent, leaving local councils to carry 93 percent of the load.
It is with this in mind that the NSW Public Libraries Association (NSWPLA) has been running a campaign in recent months to increase awareness of the state’s budgetary neglect. On August 7 a NSWPLA petition of more than 10 000 signatures was presented to the NSW Parliament calling for an injection of funds. The jury is still out on what will happen there, but hopes are high if the parliamentary debate is anything to go by.
Meanwhile, there is pressure at the tertiary level too. On 13 August over 300 staff and students joined David Malouf, Bob Ellis and University of Sydney NTEU, CPSU and NUS Presidents to protest at proposed cuts to the university’s library services (principally at Fisher Library), which are predicted to lead to the loss of 156 jobs.
In the midst of these budgetary strangleholds, it was encouraging to hear there are some still some governments with the wit and imagination to acknowledge the critical work that libraries do. On 17 August, the Craigieburn Library in Melbourne won the inaugural International Public Library of the Year. Established by the Danish Agency for Culture, the award is designed to encourage innovative architectural design suitable for active community use. Craigieburn was chosen for its success in bringing different demographics into the library, its use of open and flexible space, and for the building’s harmonious relationship with the natural landscape. The runners-up in this year’s competition were the Library of Birmingham in England, the Bookmountain Library Spijkenisse in the Netherlands and Ørestad Library in Denmark.
On Wednesday, in the thick of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, I was pleased to launch a new short story anthology from Margaret River Press. Edited by Richard Rossiter and Susan Midalia, The Trouble With Flying and Other Stories collects the best entries from the Margaret River Short Story Competition. It is the third such collection to have been published by Margaret River Press and features a great variety of contributors from across Australia (and one from New Zealand).
The launch took place at that wonderful Melbourne institution Collected Works bookshop (which declines to have a website, though it does have a blog and a facebook page) and included readings from three authors who feature in the collection: Francesca Sasnaitis, Mark Smith and Melanie Napthine. The Melbourne launch followed a successful Sydney launch at Gleebooks by novelist Fiona McFarlane on 23 August. As McFarlane observed in her launch speech, The Trouble With Flying is a particularly vibrant collection, its stories dealing in ‘moments of clarity, desperation, respite, decision and grace. They deal in many voices. Some of them are headlong and furious; others are tender and circumspect.’ Though the annual competition has only been running for a few years, it has already notched up a notable success: the 2011 runner-up Christine Piper went on to win the Vogel Award for her novel After Darkness (2014). Entries for this year’s competition and possible inclusion in the next volume are now open.
Next Wednesday, 3 September, is Indigenous Literacy Day. The day is an initiative of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which aims ‘to raise literacy levels and improve the lives and opportunities of Indigenous children living in remote and isolated regions. This is done through the delivery of books and literacy resources, publishing and visits out to remote communities.’ There will be book swaps and events held at libraries around the country, but the main event is a celebration that will be held at the Sydney Opera House, featuring popular children’s authors Andy Griffith and Alison Lester, and performances from the Sydney Children’s Choir and the Campbelltown Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir. It is a worthy cause. This year, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has distributed more than 20 000 books in remote Indigenous communities.
Our essays this week have war and remembrance as common themes. Anna Clark’s consideration of two recent works of frontier history, Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds and The Black War by Nicholas Clements, takes up the issue of Australia’s reluctance to confront the violence that attended European settlement. Clark also reflects on the difficulty of balancing historical views from both sides of the frontier, in particular Clements’ claim that ‘Objectivity and empathy are both indispensible to the historian’s craft, and need not be incompatible.’
Clark’s contribution is complemented by Tim Corballis’s essay on the photography of Laurence Aberhart. What Corballis’ identifies as Aberhart’s abiding interest in ‘vernacular’ subject matter has led the artist to produce a series of photographs of the many Anzac memorials that are scattered across Australia and New Zealand. In reflecting on the cultural significance of these monuments and the implications of Aberhart’s artistic practice, Corballis considers the possibility that Aberhart’s resonant photographs ‘might end up as only another event in the great and deceptively simple gesture of war commemoration.’ Fittingly, our image this week is one of Aberhart’s stark and elegant war memorial photographs.
This week, in keeping with the historical theme, From the Archives revisits Rachael Weaver’s appreciative review of Clare Wright’s recent Stella Prize-winning history The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. Among her many achievements, Wright is a co-author the fascinating World War One documentary The War that Changed Us, which is currently gracing our television screens.