'A library is about the surprise, the serendipity of what you might come across, the shared space...'
- Susan Orlean
I heard a fabulous interview with Susan Orlean on ABC Conversations programme recently about the 1986 fire in Los Angeles Central Library which destroyed 400,000 books and damaged another 700,000 – more than half of the 2 million books the library held. Who set the fire is an enduring mystery and the subject of her new book, The Library Book.
In the interview, Susan discusses the enchantment of a library. ‘It’s not the same as simply going and buying a book you want,’ she says.
‘A library is about the surprise, the serendipity of what you might come across, the shared space, the fact that this is something that belongs to a whole community ... you go to look for one book and you notice the book next to it, the sense that you are browsing through this great communal brain... I had forgotten how delicious that really is.’ (You can hear more of Susan on the episode here).
‘In the library you can make a million errors of choice…’
- Ursula Dubosarsky
The freedom to make mistakes
That serendipity of a library comes with a freedom of taking chances, of trying something new, picking out something on a whim, the possibility of what might be discovered - or disliked.
‘Don’t overthink it, just explore, grab!’ says Australian Children’s Laureate Ursula Dubosarsky. She describes the library as a place to make a million errors of choice.
'I’m completely not against people owning books, obviously I’m a writer, please own as many books as possible!' she says. 'But I think it’s more important to tell people to join a library than go and buy a book.’
But what about the authors?
Australia has 1600 public library outlets, lending out excess of 166 million items a year, and the range is far beyond what’s in a physical book shop.
If you’re wondering, yes, authors do receive money when you borrow a book from the library. The Australian Government has a lending rights scheme which provides payments to authors in return for the free access people receive to their work through schools and libraries.
Long live books!
Plus, the library can give a book greater longevity than the bookshop, sustaining them in the circulation long after they are out of print with the publisher. And every author wants their books to be out in the world, being read, being shared, being enjoyed.
So, love your bookshops, and fill your home with all the books you want, but don’t forget the magic of the library and the unexpected delights that are waiting there for you to discover.
My Podcast Recommendation:
ABC Conversations Podcast
Episode Thursday 4 June
‘When the Library Burned’ with Susan Orlean.