In a digital era, there’s reason to think libraries with book-lined shelves are a quaint artifact belonging to a bygone era. But think again: More than 20,000 Care2 members care a lot about libraries and signed a petition to save the Mitchell Library in Sydney — and the library has been saved.
Writers Sally McInerney, Esther Juers, David Malouf and Geordie Williamson started the petition to save the historic library back in February. As Juers wrote in a piece entitled “What is a library without books?,” the Mitchell wing of the State Library of New South Wales (NSW) is a “treasure house of Australian books, maps, newspapers and magazines, documents, manuscripts, photographs and ephemera – a very special place.”
The grand old Mitchell wing of NSW’s State Library is indeed a very special place. The State Library is the oldest library in Australia and the first established in NSW. The Mitchell reading room has been a favorite haven for writers and scholars where, as Juers described, “we snuck peanuts from our pockets, consulted the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] on ‘snuck’ vs ‘sneaked’, researched, dreamed, wrote.”
In 2013, the State Library announced a $25 million campaign to “revitalize” the building in which the Mitchell Library is housed. These plans included “enhancing” the historic Mitchell Library Reading Room to have “with free WiFi and increased seating for informal study” and a rooftop restaurant — and also to make cuts to library staff.
A library is a repository of knowledge; as more books are written, as new fields of inquiry arise and as new technologies to access information arise, even a historic institution will find itself affected by change. The Mitchell Library, as part of NSW’s State Library, is a public institution. As the four writers underscored in their Care2 petition, the public was insufficiently consulted about the major changes that library authorities had announced.
In just two weeks, more than 7,000 people — including local library users and world-renowned writers like Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood — signed the petition. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted from the comments left on the petition by a younger writer, Ceridwen Dovey:
“The Mitchell Reading Room is a national treasure, and what makes it such a special, inspiring place to work, research and write is that it is filled with real books.
“The sense of history and place is palpable. It is a rare place – in this modern, hyper-networked world we live in – for quiet, profound, uninterrupted thought. Please don’t change it!”
In April, Library Management met with members of the public including the petition authors and “revised their plans,” offering an alternative plan that was, as the petition authors wrote, “elegant and imaginative.” Even more, the authors said most of their concerns about the changes to the library had been allayed.
The Library Management’s “change of heart” shows that, even in the age of ebooks, there’s plenty of support for libraries — a huge thanks to Care2 members for showing how much you cared about the Mitchell Library!
Sadly, reports of libraries threatened with closing or actually shutting their doors are not uncommon. Is your local library facing budget cuts? Start your own Care2 petition to spread the word and save it!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons