I’ve seen some posts around lately about some of the best libraries in the world. And it got me thinking. About my favourite library of all time. The Rowden White Library at the University of Melbourne.
Often when people write about a favourite library they write about the great collection of books, the variety of resources offered, the wonderful librarians. I’m not writing about any of that. Because to me a library is something more, especially to university students and creative souls. It’s the place where you take all your stress, so that it doesn’t only live at home. The best libraries are the ones that absorb your stress, and don’t bounce any back at you.
Which is why I love the Rowden White Library. At university, it was my favourite place to work. It wasn’t an academic library – exactly the opposite. It had not a single reference book to help me. No-one raced in to get the only remaining desk. Everyone walked, slowly. Took a breath, slowly. And procrastinated, slowly. Once the procrastinating was done, however, it was one of the best places for me to get my work done.
My aim everyday when I sit down to work is to recreate that atmosphere. Minus the procrastinating.
What is it about working in a library that people find attractive? The silence? The smell of books? The lack of outside stimuli to distract?
All of those things are true, but there is something else. In a library, everyone is the most interested in what they are doing. When you enter a library, you enter with a task in mind, whether it be finding a book, doing some research or getting some work done. The aspect I remember most about Rowden White Library is that I could spread masses of manuscript out across a table, laptop in the middle, reference books to both side, looking like a bit of a madwoman as I try to perfectly rule up my work for submission… And NO-ONE stared at me.
When I work in cafes, people are curious if I have just one piece of manuscript. At home, there is the constant curiosity about what I am doing, because it is just so difficult to articulate.
But in a good library… there is none of that. Everyone comes with a task in mind, whether it be work related or not.
I miss that library. Not just because at the end of my work session I could borrow the next season of Big Bang Theory. But because in its small, quiet way, it was a safe space for creativity to flourish.
Let’s go out into the world and make more of those safe spaces. Next time you see someone working in a cafe, don’t stare. Don’t try to figure out what they’re doing. Leave them be. And maybe, next time you’re that person, you’ll notice fewer people looking at you.
Let’s turn the world into our favourite library.
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This post was originally published on August 6, 2019.