When I visited the incredible Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, I was amazed and excited to wander around the fortress-like space and explore the mind boggling, often humourous and irreverent collection of art and artefacts assembled by the museum's creator David Walsh. My amazement soon turned to sheer delight when I stumbled upon the museum's very own library. Now I am equally as delighted that Mary Lijnzaad, the Manager of the Library & Numismatics Collection at MONA has been kind enough to answer some of my questions for #blogjune. -Maria Savvidis
Tell us a bit about your background (library experience, career path, how you ended up at MONA)
Library work is my second career, after a decade in disability services. I am originally from Adelaide, and after my husband and I moved to Tasmania, I retrained at TAFE, gaining the Diploma in Library and Information Studies, I also worked as a technical assistant for the course, and did some sessional teaching too. While a student I worked in a number of different libraries around Hobart (school, special, public) before being approached to help establish the library at the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities. We didn’t know it back then, but this would eventually morph into MONA!
Give us a basic rundown of your typical day and what your position entails
The MONA library is a curious blend of private collection and special library that is also publicly accessible as a reference library. We have a small staff - just myself (full-time), a library assistant (part-time) plus 2 days per week casual staffing. That means there is always lots to do! We run the full gamut of technical, reference, collection development and customer service tasks.
My typical day would start with making sure the library itself is ready for the public, then checking emails. Emails can change the whole daily schedule! There may be requests for information for media stories, researchers writing about MONA, or from our curators as they plan for upcoming exhibitions. Collection development is a large part of my job - making sure that the collection reflects the artworks, artists, cultures and ideas that power MONA. Selecting, ordering, receiving, and processing items for the collection is a daily task.
We interact with MONA staff and the public throughout the day - providing everything from wayfinding directions, bandaids, answers to reference questions, in-depth research, with the occasional philosophical discussion thrown in for good measure.
What is unique or interesting about your library collection?
I think the fact that the library has grown out of David Walsh’s private collection makes it unique - it strongly reflects his interests, which are many and varied! This means there are some subject areas that are comprehensive, while others may feature only a few items. The collection is fluid too, responding to ideas and events as MONA grows and changes.
What are two challenges of your position?
It’s a trick to keep the different aspects of the library in balance - maintaining the integrity of David’s collection, providing support to MONA staff and delivering a service to visitors. It can be a major challenge but its also very exciting and a lot of fun!
Planning is a challenge because MONA is very much a moveable feast, constantly evolving. Flexibility and adaptability are mandatory! Learning how to bend, and sometimes abandon, the rules is very, very challenging in an orderly profession!
What are two of your favourite things about your position?
Number one would be being able to immerse myself in the ideas that drive MONA. It’s an incredible experience to be able to explore the concepts that drive our exhibitions and events, and to pull together the resources and information that underpins them.
Secondly, I’ve grown to love risk and change! Sometimes MONA can feel like a rollercoaster, and rather than feel anxious about it, I’ve learned stick my hands in the air and enjoy the ride!
What is the strangest title/object in your collection?
We have a book called ‘Das kakabet’ by the Austrian group of artists, gelitin. If you are familiar with the colloquial meaning of ‘kaka’, and can picture an alphabet made up of carefully arranged ‘kaka’, then you’ll probably understand why I’ve tagged it as strange!
Best visitor reaction/comment?
Too many to choose from! It’s always lovely when visitors just say “oh, wow” in awed tones. A lot of visitors will browse the shelves and say they could stay the whole day, which is very heartwarming. The flip side are visitors who say “it’s just a library”! Our standard response is that there is no such thing as just a library!
We often get mistaken for performance artists or even works of art (naturally). Once a visitor screamed when I moved after staring intently at my budget spreadsheet on the computer screen - until then she thought I was a sculpture!
Do you have any advice for library professionals who may be working solo (eg. common challenges : how to maintain professional relationships and networks, dealing with feelings of isolation, balancing the inevitable wearing of many hats in your position).
It’s tough, no doubt about it. I’m lucky to have an excellent library assistant and very good casual staff to share the load. I think the main trick is to establish good relationships with the other departments in the organisation. Having good working relationships throughout the organisation means you have a range of expertise and support to call on when things get tricky.
Email is a life saver when it comes to staying in touch with other library workers. I’ve had some great support from ex-colleagues (particularly the team at TasTAFE Clarence!).
Do you have a favourite memory that took place in a library?
In 2012 I was lucky enough to travel to the USA as part of my job. I had a ‘library epiphany’ in the Library of Congress, which is in reality a great temple to knowledge. It reaffirmed for me how important libraries are, and how we should never lose sight of the fact that knowledge is our main game - it’s not about format wars, print versus digital - its about making sense of all that information and data and making the resulting knowledge available to everyone. That’s a precious memory that fuels my work.
What role did libraries play in your life when you were growing up?
A massive role! I lived in my school libraries and my parents (particularly my mother) and I haunted the State Library (Lending) in SA. When there is no such thing as enough books, the library is the only place to go!
Is there a library that is on your visit wish list?
Oh yes, I want to go back to New York with enough time to visit all five of the Metropolitan Museum’s libraries!
Lastly, what is one small thing anyone can do to support the future of libraries?