Reflections on the State

Today was the last day of my three week student placement at The State Library of NSW. My heart is a little heavy because I know that three weeks is not nearly enough to absorb all that is contained within their vast collection. I left knowing it holds so much of this nation’s history, much of which will only be revealed in generations to come. There is comfort in knowing however, that a lifetime is not enough to learn everything within those walls – physically, and digitally – although some of the staff have certainly made a fine go at it.

In my three weeks I discovered the great wealth of information at your fingertips with a State Library membership card. I learned that anyone with identification of some kind can access this knowledge. I gleaned, most importantly, that anyone with or without a membership card can ask a question of the librarians who staff this great space and they will do their best to answer. In fact, if they can’t answer, it will frustrate them to no end.

I am looking for information on Cedar trees, do they taint water if they are planted near water tanks?

I’d like to find out more about my family. My great-great-grandfather was Chinese gold miner, can you help?

I am trying to ascertain the number of public and private hospitals in NSW, as well as their locations and size during the years 1914-1939, please help?

I was wondering if you can tell me – how old is the universe?

Question after question. If you are passionate about learning something new every day, then the library is the place for you.

I will probably not be alive when the thousands of tweets made during the Sydney Siege and stored in a digital repository are looked at as a snapshot in time, a glimpse into a world of fear and hate, but also solidarity without question and great hope and heart. Perhaps you do not realise there is someone collecting your content, someone who will not judge today, but who will keep it for those in the future to do so.

I hope I will be alive when the millions of pictures, sketches, diaries, manuscripts and other assorted ephemera contained within the stacks of the library are digitised and made accessible to the world, as so many already have been.

I hope I will be alive to see libraries revived, reimagined, revealed as the great repositories of information they are. After all, if content is king in this digital age, why don’t libraries rule?

Knowledge and learning is the antithesis to extremism, because the more you know, the more you come to realise you know so little. There is arrogance in extremism, there is humility in the acceptance of ignorance. It is not bliss, but there is a certain peace to it.

Libraries are certainly a reflection of this. They do not have the answer to everything, they just hope to be able to collect those things that may give us the capacity to interrogate the past and explore the potential of the future. To make information accessible to all, however old, from whichever land you come, no matter your story, or your past. To learn and discover. To educate, not to eradicate. As humans, we are unique in our desire to understand why we are here. As librarians, we are intent on giving you the means to find out. Embracing the technology and innovation that makes this knowledge more accessible to everyone is just one part of the story.

If only you knew. If only you knew what went on behind those doors. But that’s the thing, you can know. It’s a simple as walking through them.

By Amanda Gitzel

Amanda Gitzel is a Publicity Officer at Parramatta City Library, and is in her final semester of a Postgraduate Diploma in Information and Library Services from Curtin University. 

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