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.
About Iris and her work
Iris has lived in Darwin since 1985 and has been a librarian in the Top End of the Northern Territory for most of that time. With a background as a teacher and training as a teacher librarian, she found a job as a children's librarian with Darwin City Council in 1989 when her son was four years old. She liked this job because it was flexible enough to allow her to mind her small son as well as work, and because it was all about children and books.
She realised the power of combining literature with imagination and opportunity when she ran a children's poetry competition in 1990. Hundreds of children aged 3 -18 entered, and when it came to the prize-giving, they all came at once to Darwin Library, and brought their family, friends and classmates. The library in those days was on the first floor of a building in a Darwin City arcade, access via a ramp. The crowd didn't fit in the library – in fact huge numbers of people were out on the landing and the ramp craning their necks and jumping up and down to look in. Alderman Charles Gurd came punctually to present the prizes only to find it extremely hard to fight his way to the front. He made it in, just. Iris yelled out the name of each winner and their poem (no such thing as a library PA in those days) and Dr. Gurd shouted, "You've done wonderfully well!" and lobbed the prize, over the heads of everyone in the way, towards the deserving recipient.
Iris's National Year of Reading efforts
Iris is now the Manager of Taminmin Community Library, a small joint-use library administered by Northern Territory Library, situated in the local secondary school, Taminmin College. Here she has worked hard to make the National Year of Reading a source of inspiration in programs and events across the library, the college and the community. The school is large these days with 1100 students, and the residents of Darwin's rural area served by the college and the library are far-flung and diverse. And for Iris, the National Year of Reading is all about the local people - library, schools and their community.
Everybody loved Nick Bland's 'The very cranky bear', the book for National Simultaneous Storytime 2012. At Taminmin the Library and College drama students combined resources to perform 'The very cranky bear' the play, featuring charismatic local politician Gerry Wood as the very cranky bear, to an audience of 350 preschool and primary school children in the library. Nick Bland, local Top End author and NYR Ambassador, joined in the celebration and as a special treat read the children his latest Bear book, 'The very hungry bear'.
The College Biggest Morning Tea was turned into a National Year of Reading event, when Steve Sunk OAM, walkabout chef, celebrity outback cooking author and National Year of Reading ambassador, mentored the senior hospitality class who provided much of the catering. They were helped by the local CWA, who provided the scones, and by donations from staff and community. Two hundred people came to support the morning tea, we raised $1100 for the Cancer Council, and everybody was introduced to Steve's recipe book 'Walkabout chefs' and the National Year of Reading. Like Nick, Steve is one of the Darwin Rural area's creative writers – it must be something to do with the tropical rains – they help grow the inspiration.
Iris has recently started a new library program for rural seniors "Morning tea at Taminmin" – a program based on the National Year of Reading logo. There are three strands to the program: Dream – with inspirational guest speakers; Think – information on community services, and local developments; and (of course) Love2Read – book discussions. So much opportunity, so many fascinating possibilities, and so much to read!
Iris's reading habits
- Learning to read I don't remember learning to read. I lived in a small country town where my father was a high school teacher and my mother was an exceptionally clever Mummy who nevertheless stayed home and looked after the children, as Mummies did in the post-war decades. I could read when I first went to school at the age of five. I was fairly non-plussed to find that we had a reader called 'John and Betty: the earliest reader for the little ones' that was meant to be our text for the next six months. I read it when I was given it, then asked my teacher what I should do now. She told me to read it backwards. Since I was an obedient little girl, I did. I think neither of us knew what to do after that and I actually can't remember what happened next. I suspect I carefully studied 'John and Betty' letter by letter with the rest of the class.
- Childhood favourite
My first and forever childhood favourite was a one-volume edition containing 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass' by Lewis Carroll, with the original illustrations by Tenniel. I still have this book, though it lost its pretty dust jacket long ago. It was a present from Mummy and Daddy for my sixth birthday and I was delighted. Shortly after my birthday, I caught measles and spent a long and boring time in bed. So I read my new book. Unfortunately, I thought that the black and white illustrations needed livening up, so I coloured them in with my (also new) set of coloured pencils. After all, being stuck in bed, I had plenty of time. l was completely surprised when my parents registered horror, shock, disbelief and above all, disapproval. The new coloured illustrations resisted all attempts to remove them and are there to this day. I have to say, in hindsight, my artistic skill was a long way behind my reading.
Just the same, my reading skill at the age of six still had a long way to go. I found a character in the book that puzzled me. I just couldn't work out who she was, although she featured quite a lot, I thought. So I asked my father, "Who is Ann Girly?" He had no idea and asked me to show him where I'd found her. "There," I said. " 'Alice asked Ann Girly.' '' I couldn't work out why he doubled up laughing. I went away very huffy. Sometime later, I worked out that 'Alice asked angrily'. And I still feel somewhat huffy.
Did I like to read as a child!
As a young person, I read voraciously. At the age of ten, I timidly asked my local librarian if I could have a look at the books in the grown-up section. The grown-ups had so many books, I felt, whereas I had read the children's books many times over and was pretty well stuck re-reading and re-reading again. I had also read all my friends' comics and books, all my Mum's Georgette Heyers and most of my Dad's University texts, although I was stumped by the French ones. I had read my way through the ten volumes of Arthur Mee's wonderful 'Children's encyclopedia', much of it over and over again, and had pretty much nothing left except the more technical aspects of Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, which, although interesting in their own way, left something to be desired in the way of a story line.
I remember when we bought the encyclopedia. A salesman came to the door and showed it to my mother, who, although she thought it was very nice – if expensive – said to the salesman, "You'll have to come back when my husband's home." The salesman did come back that evening and they decided to buy the encyclopedia. Mum covered all ten volumes and they are still at home today, pages a little brown, but the covers are perfect. The beautiful encyclopedia educated and delighted me throughout my childhood.
However, back to my quest for entry to Adult Literature at the library, which caused a great stir and occasioned much adult consultation. However, eventually I was Allowed In, at first under strict supervision and the librarian's censorship, but eventually, when it seemed that there was to be no moral corruption of the town's youth caused by a little girl choosing to read her way through the Sherlock Holmes stories or struggle through 'Moby Dick', I was left to my own unassisted devices. And the world of Literature lay open before me.
While I was young, I read everything I could find to read. Then I had a period where life was so exciting that I couldn't find the time for a lot of literature. I swapped it for real life adventure, travel, mountaineering and all that sort of thing, not to mention motherhood and music. But now, I'm back on it. Via the exploration of books for children, I've returned to a world of books, or should I say a whirl of books!
- Reading now
The last thing I read was 'Salmon fishing in the Yemen' by Paul Torday. I enjoyed the movie so I thought I'd better read the book. I loved the wry low-key British humour and want to read more by Paul Torday.
Just before that I read an unpublished volume written by local author Gisela Erfurt, called 'The Fuhrer takes care of our children'. It is the story of Gisela's husband, George, who was taken to a Hitler Youth camp in Prague towards the end of the Second World War. The children in the camp were abandoned as the war came to a close, and 14 year old George, with two friends, simply left Prague and started walking home across war-torn Europe, to Berlin.
- Do I read much?
To be perfectly truthful, I can hardly get into bed for the books piled up beside it and sometimes I have to shove the books over in order to get into my car to drive it. I could get into E-books I suppose, but I'd probably lose the Kindle in the pile, and there hardly seems any point when my world is already packed with good stuff waiting to be read that I'm not getting to. Plus, there's something about a book.
I have just discovered, in a beautiful little bookshop in North Melbourne, 'Make way for ducklings' by Robert McCloskey, which seemed to be unobtainable for a long time. This wonderful story about Mother and Father Mallard, who decide to raise a family in the heart of downtown Boston, won the Caldecott medal in 1942, and could easily win a medal every year, it's so good.
And I'm waiting to read 'The hanging garden', Patrick White's new and unexpected posthumous novel, a treat I'm saving up for when I have the time to savour it.
And lastly, by my library desk, I generally keep a poem. For now, it's 'The road not taken' by Robert Frost. I think about the choices made and not made in a lifetime - choices that mean your life is happening here, and you're doing what you are doing; and then again, there are always the choices yet to come.
National Year of Reading events at Taminmin Community Library
- Sunday 22 July, 10am – 1pm Darwin to the Doo – classic car rally The Friends of Taminmin Library together with the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club bring you a combination of classic cars, photographs and original drawings at Taminmin Community Library. Click on the following link to find out more about this event:
- Saturday 4th August, 11.30am for 12pm Seniors' Poetry Lunch The Friends of Taminmin Library invite all interested people to come along to this free event for Seniors' Month. Over a relaxing lunch, listen to the poets of the rural area read their original poems. Bring along your own poem or one you particularly like, and join in. An anthology compiled from poems resented at the lunch will be launched later in the year. Select the following link for further details about this event:
Want to know more?
- To find out about the collections and services of the Taminmin Community Library, take a look at the following links:
- 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 Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, 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.