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Shelf Life: Paul Holdengräber and Susan Orlean on Libraries

'The boundary between society and the library is porous,' Susan Orlean has written. 'Nothing good is kept out of the library, and nothing bad.'

What do libraries mean to us – as public places and civic institutions? Why do attacks on libraries evoke a special kind of horror? And what do libraries represent in the collective imagination and in literary history?

Hosted by State Library Victoria’s Justine Hyde, we're presenting two great American thinkers who have spent years of their lives immersed in the world of libraries. Paul Holdengräber was the former curator of conversations at the New York Public Library – and their successful podcast – and now the founding executive director of the Onassis Foundation, a centre for dialogue in Los Angeles. Susan Orlean is a bestselling author and New Yorker staff writer whose latest work, The Library Book, combines memoir with an investigation of the unsolved 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire.

Join us for an extravagantly nerdy conversation, cataloguing the past, present and future of public libraries; why we love them, and why we can’t do without them.

Dymocks Camberwell will be our bookseller at this event.

Presented in partnership with State Library Victoria.

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Portrait of Justine Hyde

Justine Hyde

Justine Hyde is Director, Experience at the State Library Victoria where she leads the libraries onsite and digital experience, brand and audience development, exhibitions and programs. Justine is a regular speaker on the topic of transforming libraries for the 21st century both in Australia and overseas. She is also a writer and critic published in the Age, the Saturday Paper, the Australian, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Seizure, the Wheeler Centre and Women's Agenda.

Portrait of Paul Holdengräber

Paul Holdengräber

Paul Holdengräber is the Founding Executive Director of the Onassis Foundation LA (OLA), an outpost of the Onassis headquarters in Athens that began its work as a ‘center of dialogue’ earlier this year. Prior to working at OLA, he was the founder and director of New York Public Library (NYPL)’s Public Programming, and the host of LIVE from the NYPL.  

Portrait of Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean

Hailed a 'national treasure' by the Washington Post, Susan Orlean is the acclaimed, bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award-winning film Adaptation

How much?

$25 adults and $20 concession, plus 50c booking fee. Book your tickets


An alchemy of writers. An explosion of ideas.

Do you like your military history with a side of hip-hop? How about fabulist fiction beside trailblazing journalism? This May, take your brain out for a spin. You’ll meet Pulitzer-winners, YA stars, eminent historians, poets, rappers and some of the world’s best living novelists.

Event partners

Logos of partner organisations: Sydney Writers Festival, Auckland Writers Festival, State Library Victoria, State Library of Queensland and Byron Writers Festival


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