Although I work at home a lot, I don’t always work at home. Sometimes I take my laptop down to Fremantle and park myself in a cafe. Sometimes I head up to my local library. It helps to have a change of scenery, to avoid the many demands of an insistent house, and there’s something satisfying about writing surrounded by books and readers.
Because my house is currently an inviting combination of bomb-site, dust bowl and storage facility, I’ve been doing this more often lately. And because I’ve been doing it more, I’ve broadened my reach. In the last couple of months, I’ve sampled over a dozen libraries. And I can’t help noticing that although some features are common to most – from the expected (books!) to the less-expected (flat-screen TV!) – each also has its own idiosyncrasies, its own particular culture.
So I bring you the first in an occasional series: “Tales from Inner Libraria*”. Reading these entries, perhaps you’ll nod, because you recognise your library here. Perhaps you’ll shake your head because you think I’m making it up. I won’t be.
Today’s library is a small establishment, south of the river. Despite its small stature, it has not been left behind in the flat-screen television arms race (and honestly – is it just me? Why do we need TV of any description in the library? I guess the argument is that they’re a library gateway drug of sorts, a drawcard for kids, who will then somehow absorb the reading bug just by virtue of being near the books? Or perhaps that they are simply alternative sources of information/education, though the one at my local library is in the YA section, conveniently positioned near a vending machine from which teenagers may purchase bags of chips to scoff on the overstuffed couches, and appears to play only sport or cartoons. When it first appeared and I asked whether there had been some debate over the merits of its installation, I was met with a blank stare).
But I digress. Back to today’s library.
At today’s library, the flat-screen television was so large relative to the library itself, and positioned so high on the wall that it was like a kind of altar, overseeing everything. And it was on, loudly so, playing some sort of obnoxious morning tabloid program peppered with infomercials for ab-crunching devices and toxins for the skin. As is my wont, I approached it with the intent of turning it off, but the controls were cunningly sealed inside a locked cabinet. So I approached the desk. “I wonder,” I said mildly, “if that could be turned off?”
The librarian raised her eyebrows. “Off?” She tasted the word as if it were some kind of strange foreign fruit. “What if someone wants to watch it?”
“There’s no-one else here,” I said. And it’s a library, I did not add. “Only me.”
“Someone might come,” she said. “And want to watch it.”
“Then you could turn it back on,” I suggested.
She shook her head. “We always have it on.”
This, of course, is not really an argument. I raised my own eyebrows, by way of pointing this out.
The librarian sighed heavily. “Well, I suppose I could turn it down.”
She turned it down. It was a compromise. Such things are good. I returned to my table.
Then the librarian picked up the phone. She called a friend. And proceeded to discuss at great length and volume a recent trip to the doctor and the results of various intimate medical tests.
I worked at my table, raising my head only slightly from time to time to offer a bemused smile, to remind her there were people here, in the library. And I wrote for two hours/1683 words. Not bad.
I like that library. It has a nice, community feel to it. I may go back next week and toy with the librarian. Plus I’m keen to find out whether the antibiotics do the trick.
* with apologies to Shaun Tan