Saturday 16 June 2012

A different type of library tourism

I’m sure quite a few of us are pleasantly guilty of ‘library tourism’ – sneaking in a visit to the library in the city we happen to be on holidays in (usually often a spectacular building in itself), or perhaps even planning a holiday based on libraries you want to see. In fact, an issue of ALIA’s Incite last year even focused on the activity. 

Lately though I’ve been talking to people about those of us who undertake this library touring as a form of serious leisure, or even as part of their professional practice, and I want to introduce a few of these projects here. These are projects where there’s an activist or creative drive behind the library ‘tourism’, and it’s often undertaken in groups. This is different to the library tourism we do when we stand in awe inside the reading room at the British Library, or drag our whole family to the Seattle Public Library to admire the architectural feat of its building. Instead, these are discrete projects that engage with ideas and issues around libraries and information work, and present different ways of engaging with everyday places (perhaps your workplace?).

Cycling for libraries

This is an activist project that is a perambulating unconference; participants from all over the world cycle through Europe visiting libraries and other sites of significance to the profession. In 2011 eighty library workers and their friends cycled from Copenhagen to Berlin, and in late July this year another group will cycle from Estonia to Latvia (finishing around the same time the IFLA conference starts in Helsinki).

The Cycling for Libraries collective say: ‘Cycling for libraries supports grassroots networking, and internationalism, physical and mental well-being of library professionals, and — last but not least — the crucial role of libraries for the society and for the intellectual and scientific education in general. Cycling for libraries also supports environmental values and ecological way of life.’

This year’s tour registration has closed, but keep your eyes out for next year's – for around 300 euros it works out to be a great way to explore a continent, challenge yourself physically (and mentally) and develop an activist approach to the library profession.


Biblioburbia is a writing project by local Sydney writer and zine maker Vanessa Berry, who documented her visits to libraries across the Sydney region on her blog. As well as the blog, Vanessa exhibited a massive (wall sized) map of all the libraries she visited, with beautiful hand drawn images of each library and excerpts from her writing alongside each one. She also made a zine about the visits, and has been speaking publicly about the project.

She says ‘it’s a project that comes from my lifelong love of books, reading, and writing, as well as my love of Sydney’s suburbs and my interest in public spaces. Libraries, like op shops, are spaces you can inhabit without needing much money, and they are places where you can browse and discover things by chance. They are public spaces, but can also be quite personal spaces.’

This is a different type of library tourism. It’s local, and it’s reflective, and there’s much creativity inspired by it. Perhaps your local library is on the map?

Fly Away Zine Mobile

The Fly Away Zine Mobile is a different type of library tourism again. Instead of visiting libraries around America, it is a mobile zine library that visits towns and cities. Full of zines and other forms of DIY published material, the van drove around North America last summer, with events organized around its arrival in each town. These events included workshops, readings, and open hours. The zines and musical instruments in the van could be borrowed, and their return negotiated. Melbourne based librarian and zine-maker John Stevens was one of the ‘Orderly Disorder’ zine librarians on the tour last year. He found it an ‘incredibly illuminating and liberating experience as a conventionally trained library professional from a highly regarded gate-keeper institution, encountering substantially more para-professionals involved with the spaces that the zine mobile stopped at along the way (not to mention the zine mobile itself, which happily threw conventional cataloging out the window - when no cars were overtaking - in place for ordering by colour and size rather than topic or author)’. (Thanks to John for his words on the experience!)

The zine librarians head out again this summer on a cross-pollination tour – perhaps you might bump into them if you happen to be in the United States in the next month or two.

Jessie Lymn is a PhD Candidate at UTS and works in the Information programs at both UTS and CSU. She researches archives and subcultural practices.

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