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Librarians are having their moment in the sun

Melbourne might have ACDC lane, but Canberra is set to name two streets after notable librarians. The Australian capital will name Ena Noel Street after the long-time teacher-librarian and advocate for children’s literature, while Trask Street will be named after librarian and library educator Margaret Trask.

It might be an overstatement to align librarians with the rock stars after which Melbourne’s famous laneway has been named, but it does seem that librarians are having their day.

Shaking off old stereotypes of shushing matrons, modern librarians draw sell-out crowds to their events and attract impressive social media followings.

Metropolitan libraries host concerts, while regional libraries pull crowds at their exhibitions and author talks. The Geelong Library and Heritage Centre’s recent appearance by Tim Winton quickly sold out, while a talk at the Ballarat Library by the fifth great niece of legendary writer, Jane Austen, was so popular that a waiting list was set up in hope of cancellations.

On Twitter and Facebook, librarians and libraries are also proving popular. The Australian Library and Information Association has 9,684 Twitter followers, while the Surly Librarian has 4,456. The State Library of Victoria boasts a hefty 30,200 followers, while the State Library of New South Wales has more than 14,000, and the Geek the Library Facebook account in Washington, set up to build awareness of the value of public libraries, has 64,494 followers.

Late last year, a US librarian took to Twitter to argue with a newspaper columnist who had tweeted that public libraries should be closed due to lack of use. Thousands of people backed up the librarian, retweeting his words and leading the columnist to publicly apologise and admit that libraries were more popular than he had thought.

There is even an American television series, also screening in Australia, titled The Librarians (although you are unlikely to see ‘librarians’ the likes of those in this program at your local library).

Much-loved Australian writer Jackie French took to Twitter recently to voice her respect for librarians, saying, “Librarians are the custodians of 3,000 years of written human heritage. Never underestimate a librarian.”

I wholeheartedly agree, and it is high time that librarians got the attention they deserved.

Reminiscing with a colleague about our memories of primary school recently, we both spoke of our fond memories of our warm and friendly school librarian. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, 25 years later, we both ended up working in the world of book publishing.

But, why the fuss about librarians all of a sudden? Have they changed, or do they remain the present, passionate custodians of the written word that they have always been, and which French described?

While libraries have evolved to host exhibitions, forums and even concerts, perhaps the beauty of librarians lies in the qualities that have always existed, but are more valuable than ever in a changing world. In an environment that is endlessly noisy, with its alternative facts and information overload, librarians help cut through the noise – not through shushing those who talk too loudly, but through their roles as keepers of knowledge; if they don’t know something, you can be sure they will know where to find it. They offer a space and food for thought – the real delicacy of our time.

Speaking at the State Library of Victoria recently, author Christos Tsiolkas said the library provided a village square and forum for discussion and debate – something sadly lacking elsewhere in countries like Australia. And it is librarians who are at the helm.

So, I am cheering for the recognition Canberra has granted two librarians, and hope that other cities will follow their lead. Melbourne, there is already a Hosier Lane and Hardware Lane, is Librarian Lane next?




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