It was the sign advertising books for sale that caught my eye. We were putting in time, my cousin Pam and I, until the doors of the theatre opposite opened. It was hot enough that I didn’t want to wander far so we ducked inside an old building, were directed to a neo-classical lift and emerged in Wonderland, otherwise known as the Athenaeum Library.
The building began life as the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution, one of those wonderful 19th Century ideas designed to open up learning. If you visit the website (www.melbourneathenaeum.org.au) you’ll discover the wide variety it offered and still offers. A library and reading room has always been at the centre and there is now a subscription library.
It’s an atmospheric combination of ancient and modern. Fittings from its history jostle for space with recent publications and information about e-books. Although the past is certainly there, it is only a part of what makes it a fascinating space. Alongside the books, there is a plethora of newspapers, magazines and journals. An image of myself dropping in on my way home to catch up with the headlines, research for a project and change my books flitted through my imagination. Sadly, I don’t think I would be classed as even a country subscriber living, as I do, on the other side of the world.
We only had a few minutes to spare but I talked with the member of staff about the collection and retention policies and was interested in the way in which they are able to differ from a public library service. I wish that I had had more time but, almost inevitably, that was my last day in Australia. One day (presumably) travel will be possible again and perhaps I can go back. In my daydreams I fantasise about an opening for a Scottish librarian…