During her Perth Festival Writers Week session with ABC RN’s Claire Nichols, Afternoons with Harvey Beam author Carrie Cox described what it was like to grow up on the wrong side of the river – by which she meant the side without a library.
Luckily for Carrie, she had a grandmother who, every fortnight, took her to the right side of the river where Carrie was allowed to borrow books on her grandmother’s library card and where she would relish ‘just being in the library … surrounded by its books and its booky people, floating about in dust motes of imagination and stories’.
Today Carrie’s home town boasts five libraries, a library bus and a very active program of community events. Carrie’s anecdote, however, underlined the disparity between her experience of several decades past and my experience today as a city-dwelling Australian.
During Perth Festival Writers Week, librarians flocked to our breakfast session to book writers and illustrators for their community programs. Just one week later and the enormously popular and long-running CBCA WA A Night With Our Stars attracted a 300-strong crowd of teachers and librarians – all also looking for their next guest star to present to the ‘booky people’ of Perth.
A glance at the events listed on the Fremantle Press Facebook page showed me that in libraries this month I have a choice between a Literary Salon with Amanda Curtin (for the book Kathleen O’Connor of Paris), a Pizza and Pyjama Party with children’s book illustrator Kelly Canby (for Rodney) and a selection of not one, not two, but 11 libraries where I can see Dave Warner talk and sing his way through a show about his life of crime (for River of Salt). We are spoiled for choice when it comes to accessing books and authors through our local libraries – and good on the librarians who make this happen.
That’s all on the plus side. A quick look at my inbox, however, reminded me that making books accessible to all Australians becomes substantially more challenging the moment we move away from urban and regional centres. Enter not-for-profit organisations like the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent charity that says closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people starts with literacy and numeracy.
As well as distributing physical resources (free of charge) through their Books for Learning program, the Foundation is in the process of developing an online library for Indigenous children. They emailed me recently to let me know that Colour Me, We All Sleep, My Country, The Two-Hearted Numbat and Dreamers had been selected for inclusion. This means the books will be translated into the two most widely spoken Indigenous languages – Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara – and made available to participating schools and families. Thank you to Moira Court, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Ambelin Kwaymullina and Sally Morgan who have all agreed to allow their books to be included in the Indigenous library.
Till next month, Jane