Like the fabled library in Alexandria

Like the fabled library in Alexandria

There are places I remember

The demise of a childhood library prompts memories of the acquisition of knowledge.

My high school library in Sydney, Australia, burnt down over the weekend. Firefighters were called to the school in the wee hours of Monday morning, and by the time they arrived the entire two-storey library building was ablaze.

It was too late to save it, made of brick with a corrugated iron roof. By the time the blaze was extinguished nothing but ash remained inside. The structure had to be demolished before students could return to the school.

It’s been 15 years since I set foot in that school, and yet I am strangely affected by the loss of this place of childhood memories.

I remember when I started at the school in Grade 7 and we were marched into the library to get our library cards. I remember being overwhelmed by how huge the facility was, just like everything on those first days was overwhelming.

I remember visiting the wall of encyclopedias (I’m showing my age now) to research homework assignments, and getting caught up looking at entries for things as diverse as the Great Wall of China and giardia while I was supposed to be reading about guitars.

I remember visiting the career counsellor’s office in the library and being told I was suited to a career as an attorney, and that my desire to be a journalist was not nearly as profitable … and then, thankfully, having the good sense to pursue the career I wanted rather than the one that would make me the most money.

I remember the weeks in the lead-up to my final Grade 12 exams, when I would hunker down at a desk in the seniors’ study area and quietly panic, as dozens of my peers did the same thing at desks around me.

I remember, distinctly, standing at the top of the stairs looking over both levels of the mezzanine layout, marvelling at all of the information contained within those walls. I remember feeling like everything I ever needed to know was right there in front of me, and all I had to do was begin to open books and learn.

In this internet age, that’s a sweetly naive idea — that all of the world’s information could be contained in such a small space. For heaven’s sake, if you filled that space floor to ceiling with hard drives, the information on the hard drives would still only contain a fraction of the web.

But back then, the world was so simple, and my high school library had never let me down before. With the help of the friendly school librarians (and my mum was one, though at another school, so I am a little biased), I was able to answer any question. All it took was persistence and the willingness to become absorbed by paper and ink.

It’s an experience that I imagine is common for most students, all over the world. Any student who is lucky enough to have access to a school library has at their fingertips a wealth of education, insight and entertainment.

In one night, $2 million worth of education was destroyed at my high school library. The school was preparing for its 40th anniversary celebration later this year, so the fire also took decades of memorabilia being stored there for the occasion.

But, for the thousands of students who learnt in that library, its impact can never be taken away. Like all school libraries, it has made an indelible mark on our lives and helped create who we are today.

Sally MacDonald is a

reporter with the Cranbrook Daily Townsman