Feature Week 22: Library Heroes
During the 22nd week of the National Year of Reading, members of the library and information community will be heading to Sydney to take part in the 2012 ALIA Biennial Conference. What better time for us to feature our library ambassadors who oversee two very different libraries and demonstrate the diversity of services and resources available in thousands of libraries throughout Australia. We shine the spotlight on Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, Director-General of the National Library of Australia, and Iris Beale, the Library Manager at Taminmin Community Library in Humpty Doo near Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Anne-Marie was born in Bombay, India, to a French speaking Mauritian mother and a German speaking Czech father. The majority of her childhood was spent in India before her family migrated to Australia in the early 1970s. They settled in Sydney, where Anne-Marie completed her education, gaining a Bachelor of Arts (Hons), majoring in ancient history, from Macquarie University. Later, she returned to study, graduating with a Diploma in Information Management from the University of New South Wales.
In 1978, Anne-Marie joined the public service working in various departments including the Australian War Memorial, the National Library and the National Archives where she was to become the acting Director-General before joining the State Library of Victoria as State Librarian and CEO. Today, she holds what she has described as her 'dream job' as the Director-General of the National Library of Australia.
Anne-Marie's thoughts on the National Library and the National Year of Reading
The National Library was delighted to be the venue for the national launch of the National Year of Reading and my colleagues, who are inveterate readers, began the Page Turners blog - to celebrate the Year of Reading by writing about the articles, magazines and books we are reading.
Since then, we have had great fun with National Simultaneous Storytime and it is very fitting that, in this National Year of Reading and in the centenary of the year of Patrick White's birth, we have been channelling our most distinguished novelist with our exhibition, with The Life of Patrick White. We are about to farewell the show which, on 13 August, will open at the State Library of NSW.
Each year the Library publishes some twenty-five titles which promote the collection and are sold in more than 1,600 outlets around Australia and New Zealand. The books are varied and beautiful and none are more satisfying than the titles for young readers like Tania McCartney's 'Australian story: an illustrated timeline'; Stephanie Owen Reeder's 'Amazing Grace'; and Susan Hall's 'Animal tales'.
The work of libraries celebrates and underpins the importance of reading and the written word. In mid June, when Professor Nandan spoke about his research as one of the Library's recent Harold White Fellows, he gave a powerful example of why literature matters: 'Literature can work; let me give a brief example: I met Colonel Rabuka after 21 years in my office three years ago. I gave him four books, three of mine and one by Kavita entitled Stolen Worlds. A few days later Mr Rabuka wrote a remarkable piece in The Fiji Times asking for the nation's forgiveness for his unnecessary coups and their tragic consequences. He said he was affected by three lines in a poem of mine entitled "Easter' 88" and dedicated to Timoci Bavadra. That – a dictator's extraordinary response to an ordinary poem -- alone is a compelling reason to write my story.'
Anne-Marie's reading habits
- When do you read? Reading last thing at night is a ritual.
- What's the book you've read most often? Jane Austen's 'Persuasion'; Anne Schofield and Kevin Fahy's 'Australian jewellery'.
- Which book is by your bedside right now?
Graeme Davison's 'University unlimited: the Monash story'; Gideon Haigh's 'The office'; Richard Neville's 'Mr J W Lewin: painter & naturalist' (in preparation for the exhibition about Lewin and his art that will be at the National Library, courtesy of the State Library of NSW, between 28 July and 28 October); and 'Vanity Fair' (the magazine rather than William Makepeace Thackeray's classic).
- What was the last book you received as a gift?Satendra Nandan's 'Requiem for a rainbow: a Fijian Indian story'. Professor Nandan has been at the Library as one of our Harold White Fellows and, in typically generous spirit, gave it to me.
- How do you get hold of books?
The National Library's bookshop is an eternal temptation and wonderful shop – have a look at our newsletter:
- Do you have lots of books on the go at once, or just one? Lots.
- At what point do you give up on a book? Deliberately, if the lack of proof reading and poor editing is glaring. Occasionally I give up without being conscious of doing so but find I've never gone back to the book.
- Was your family a reading family? Yes. Many evenings were spent with the BBC's world service on the radio, Dad reading work related papers; Mum reading books and my sister and I sprawled on the floor reading whatever was enthralling at the time and interrupting them to earnestly relay the excitements of our books.
- Where's the strangest place you have ever read? Early 1990s, New York, a hotel room without a light fitting (I knew that this was not optimum accommodation when I arrived to find staff picketing the hotel) which meant my choices were to lean out of the window and read by the light of the neon advertising or stand in the shower to read by the bathroom light.
Anne-Marie's favourite reads
- Almost any of Jane Austen's works because of her wry observation of people, power and relationships.
- Loeb Classical Library's Select Papyri which present a selection of Greek papyri documenting private and public business in Egypt. They date from before 300 BC to the eighth century AD and, in the words of the dust jacket, 'were found in rubbish heaps or remains of ancient houses or in tombs.' They are often just fragments of longer documents (accounts and receipts, wills, letters, marriage and other contracts, prayers, horoscopes) but give us glimpses of what it was to like to live, love, do business in Egypt and connect us as human beings across geography, culture and time. It seems particularly fitting in our National Year of Reading to read a fragment of a letter to a schoolboy from his mother dating to the second or third century AD which says 'I took care to send and inquire about your health and to learn what you were reading. He said it was the 6th book [of Homer's Iliad].' [Volume 1, Letter 130, p 335]
Out and about with Anne-Marie
As part of the National Library's Winter Tales series, and in conjunction with the Australian Women's Archives Project, Anne-Marie will present a talk at the National Library on Sunday 29th July at 2pm. For more information, go to the Library website:
Want to know more?
- To find out about the collections and services of the National Library of Australia, go to the NLA website:
- More information about the ALIA 2012 Biennial conference program can be found on the conference website. Watch out for the sessions to be held on Thursday 12 July that focus on the Year of Reading:
- Select the following link to read about Iris Beale, another featured ambassador for week 22:
- If you want to see the other National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page.
- Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing.