Monday 21 September 2015

The Library Collector

The National Library of Latvia

Some people collect shoes, their closets a dazzling rainbow of stilettos. They treasure glittering ruby slippers and purple cowboy boots. But I never understood shoes. I collect libraries. My Instagram account is a dazzling rainbow of photographs from libraries I have visited. I treasure the amazing foyer in the National Library of Latvia and the colourful book sculpture ceiling at QUT Library, Kelvin Grove.

Book sculpture ceiling at QUT Library, Kelvin Grove

In an article for The Guardian newspaper psychologist, Christian Jarrett put forward a theory of collecting. He argues that collecting is how we cope with hidden anxieties and desires. It’s how we make up for the feeling of being unloved or create intimacy with celebrities. It’s even ‘survival of the fittest’. We accumulate possessions to enhance our status in a consumer-driven society.

As a teenager I collected memorabilia from the sci-fi drama, The X Files. But my early collecting efforts were restrained, even half-hearted. I read about a young woman who used her entire pay cheque to buy the much coveted X Files bomber jacket. Such a ruthless, uncompromising passion for collecting was foreign to me… until I started collecting libraries.
Courtyard at the National Library of Russia, St Petersburg

My collection began last year in St Petersburg. I found a rare collector’s item: the National Library of Russia. I stood outside this magnificent library surrounded by marigolds, in a courtyard looking up at the sky. And that was the moment I knew I would collect libraries.

For a collector the desire to acquire goes beyond reason and sense. I nearly missed the tour bus from Lithuania because I was entranced by the Wroblewski Library. I braved severe weather warnings in Minsk so I could see the National Library of Belarus. In a Moscow underground station I walked up to strangers and asked for directions to the Russian State Library using the only three words I knew in Russian language: please, thank-you and library.

The Russian State Library, Moscow

For me collecting libraries is challenging. But when I look at the photographs on my Instagram account I don’t think of the difficulties, the anxiety or the confusion. What I remember is how visiting the Wroblewski Library was like kneeling in a church. Being under a glass roof in the National Library of Belarus felt as though I were standing beneath a canopy in a tropical rainforest, watching the rain drops fall. I remember sitting on the majestic stone steps of the Russian State Library, watching as people meet and greet on a sunny autumn morning. Whether I’m in Moscow or Melbourne, what I see are libraries as meeting places, places of community.

Craigieburn Library, Melbourne

I have collected more than twenty libraries now. I finally found that ruthless, uncompromising passion for collecting. And the girl who spent her entire fortnight’s pay on an X Files bomber jacket: that is me. Only it wasn’t a bomber jacket, it was a deposit on a trip to London. So I can finally add the British Library to my collection. @AMoodiLibrarian

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