I wanted to make Cessnock by nightfall, but time was running out, so I wiped all the bookstores from my schedule and drove straight to the Hornsby Central Library. I was hoping to meet Melanie Mutch from Librarian’s Choice, but since I hadn’t told her I was coming – and it was Sunday – I wasn’t surprised to discover she wasn’t in. Still being new to this whole ‘book(ish)’ thing – I hadn’t yet worked out what I was doing – or what I even wanted to know. So I was grateful that the librarians at the front desk welcomed me like a local.
Hornsby Central Library is on a busy highway. It’s housed behind a crouching windowless facade in a suburban building. Crossing the bleak four lane highway divided by a sturdy iron fence it wasn’t inviting. But if outside was apocalyptic, inside was alive with activity.
“Funny,” said Sharon Lee, the library’s Customer Services Co-Ordinator, “we were just commenting on how quiet it is in here today.”
The HSC had ended the week before, so none of the high school students were in. Instead, there were young parents reading to their toddlers; older people on the computers; and a gathering of ‘new Australians’ practising conversational English.
Sharon has been at the library for 15 years. She started out studying science, then took a 15 year detour into maritime research. This led her to Human Relations and Recruitment. It took her a while to realise her first love wasn’t science, but study – and most particularly – the actual library.
She retrained and worked her way up from a Library Assistant. “I loved that – dressing up in character to read story-time for the kids.”
Today, she says, most of her work is with computer literacy. “We have a lot of older clients who come in and ask, ‘Where will I find the internet?” She says a lack of access to computers and misunderstandings about technology hold a lot of people back. “It’s vital that everyone has access to technology. Librarians spend a lot of our working time helping people navigate the web.”
Last year, the library partnered with Telstra to provide ‘Tech Savvy’ classes to help older Australians get on-line. “Digital illiteracy is as important to modern libraries as general illiteracy. If you can’t access Centrelink, or if you are cut off from Facebook or family that affects the quality of your life.”
For the second time in a row I’ve found myself gushing with pleasure at the whole package which is Australia’s public libraries. It’s their sense of community and mateship that I like so much. The patience of the librarians, and their pleasure in helping me is welcoming.
Hornsby Central Library is a brutalist architectural building, with beautiful, jelly-bean sweet people inside. The library has a focus on community and technology – helping families stay connected.