‘A Vital Hub’: In Celebration of Libraries

In the Guardian today, last year’s Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow Fatima Measham writes passionately about the importance of public libraries to multicultural suburbs on the outer-suburban fringe.

Williamstown Library, in Melbourne’s west. Photo: Tony O'Loughlin.

Williamstown Library, in Melbourne’s west. Photo: Tony O'Loughlin.

‘They are a vital hub for new migrants, students, job searchers and pensioners who would otherwise not have access to books, computers, the Internet and a printer,’ she says. ‘It is not just that these things are available near home. There are people whose job it is to assist you. It makes for an inclusive space, perhaps one of the few remaining where transactions don’t require a cash register.’

Fatima, a Werribee resident whose Wheeler Centre project was an essay in defence of her suburb, was writing in the context of $1.05 million in federal funding being pulled for a budgeted new library in Tarneit, a burgeoning suburb in the City of Wyndham.

‘Studies consistently demonstrate significant dividends from public investment in libraries,’ she writes. ‘In Victoria, every dollar spent on libraries delivers $3.60 of benefit, through things like literacy initiatives and economic stimulus via local employment and expenditure.’

A new US book, The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson, is a celebration of diverse libraries across America - old and new, big and small - and the role they play. The New Yorker has published some of the photographs in a slideshow.

The George Washington Carver Branch Library, Austin, Texas. ‘Black citizens in East Austin strongly advocated for a library in their community, and this was the first branch to serve them.’

Central Library, Seattle. Opened in 2004.

The Queens Library bookmobile. ‘The bookmobile stationed in the Rockaways, after Hurricane Sandy.’

Willard Library, Evansville; Indiana, 2011. ‘Built in 1885, this is the oldest public library in Indiana. Housed in a spectacular Victorian building, it is rumored to be haunted.’

Richard F. Boi Memorial Library, the first Little Free Library; Hudson, Wisconsin, 2012. ‘Todd Boi started the Little Free Library movement as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and a schoolteacher, by mounting a wooden container designed to look like a schoolhouse on a post on his lawn.’

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