Monday musings on Australian literature: Warm Winter Read

For several years now, Cathy of 746 books has been running a 20 Books of Summer challenge, which many Southern Hemisphere bloggers re-frame as “of Winter”. It’s a great initiative, and this year has over 120 participants. You go, Cathy! However, for something closer to home that’s geared to this winter, I thought I’d share with you Warm Winter Read. It is an initiative of Public Libraries Victoria, and I read about it on Angela Savage’s blog. Well-known as an author, Angela is also the CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.

As a retired librarian, I love checking out what libraries are doing – and when they encourage reading AND Australian authors and books, then I’m on side.

The program’s aim, Angela says, is “to encourage readers to develop a daily reading habit by tracking the days they read over June and July 2022”. It has been taken up by most of Victoria’s library services, and involves an app – the Beanstack app (here) – through which participants can log daily reading, take part in optional challenges and share book reviews. Apparently the optional challenges include things like, Angela writes, “read outside your home; read aloud to a pet, person or plant; and talk about what you’re reading in person or online”.

This is all great, but I’m mainly sharing it with you because the campaign has eight ambassadors, who are all “high-profile” Victorian authors. Each of these was asked to recommend four books to get readers started (although people can read any books). There are apparently bookmarks for each author, containing their recommendations.

The ambassadors are a diverse bunch (links on their names are to my posts on them) and so are their recommended books, which range across a wide variety of forms and genres, fiction and non-fiction. Their recommendations are:

  • Maxine Beneba Clarke: Maria Takolander’s Trigger warning; Claire G. Coleman’s Lies, damned lies; Alice Pung’s One hundred days; Ennis Cehić’s Sadvertising
  • Claire G Coleman: Omar Sakr’s Son of sin; Maxine Beneba Clarke’s How decent folk behave; Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail’s (ed), Unlimited futures; Evelyn Araluen’s Drop bear
  • Helen Garner: Sean O’Beirne’s A couple of things before the end; David Owen Kelly’s State of origin; Larissa Behrendt’s After story; Gabbie Stroud’s Teacher
  • Jane Harper: Sally Hepworth’s The younger wife; Karina Kilmore’s Where the truth lies; Kate Mildenhall’s The mother fault; Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone in my family has killed someone
  • Toni Jordan: Genevieve Novak’s No hard feelings; Emily Spurr’s A million things; R.W.R. McDonald’s The Nancys; Paddy O’Reilly’s Other people’s houses
  • Rebecca Lim: Amani Haydar’s The mother wound; Trent Jamieson’s Day boy; Cixin Liu’s The three-body problem; Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay
  • Jock Serong: Emma Viskic’s Those who perish; Robert Gott’s The orchard thieves; Emily Brugman’s The islands; Michael Winkler’s Grimmish
  • Christos Tsiolkas: Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon; Angela Savage’s Mother of Pearl; Andy Jackson’s Music our bodies can’t hold; Judith Brett’s The enigmatic Mr Deakin

I have not heard of all these books, let alone read them, but I can see that the list offers something for most readers and should kickstart some thinking about what to read.

Different library services are promoting the program in different ways. Here are some: Goldfields Libraries; Hume Libraries; and Yarra Plenty Regional Library. BUT as I pottered around some of the sites, I also picked up other things that libraries are doing. For example, the Warrnambool Library advertises that it can help members access their vaccination certificates. What a great service for the less technologically proficient in our communities. I love how modern public libraries are comprehending and expressing their role as community information centres.

Also, in some communities, the local newspaper has got behind the program too. What about this one from the Shepparton News:

Come into your local library to check out a Warm Winter Read. You’ll find hot romances, spicy thrillers and toasty tales of fun and adventure. You can register and log your participation via the Beanstack website at www.plv.beanstack.orgor by downloading the Beanstack Tracker app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

For readers who prefer ‘old-school’, pick up a tracking sheet from your local library. Lots of challenges to keep the next few months interesting.

And here I will leave you. This is a pretty short and simple Monday Musings, partly because I have joined the growing number of bloggers who have contracted COVID-19. So, while I’m not very sick, thanks to being fully vaccinated, I’m also not wonderfully chipper and need now to go take a nap!

Meanwhile, here’s a job for you: what would you have recommended if you’d been asked to suggest four books for a program like this? (And if you’re not Aussie, you can choose non-Aussie books!)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Untapped (The Australian Literary Heritage Project)

I have Lisa (ANZLitLovers) to thank for this Monday Musings because, commenting on my recent Margaret Barbalet post, she mentioned this Untapped project, which, embarrassingly, was unknown to me. Then, seeing our discussion, novelist Dorothy Johnston joined in, and offered to send me some information, which she did. So, I now have a copy of the launch announcement press release. This eased my embarrassment a little, as the project was announced two months ago, on 18 November 2021, and was launched on 6 December (at this gala event). Easy to miss, says she, at such a busy time of year!

Yes, yes, but what is it, I hear you all saying? Essentially, Untapped aims “to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life”. In other words, it’s about bringing to the fore again those books that have been published in the past but are now out-of-print. The books are produced in eBook format, and are available for borrowing from libraries and purchase from several eBooksellers.

I like that it’s “a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers”, and that “it creates a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries”. The project has some significant partners, including the Australian Society of Authors, National State and Territory Libraries, the Australian Library and Information Association and Ligature Press. 

What a visionary and practical project. I am particularly thrilled about it because it ties in somewhat with our reframing this year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) to focus on forgotten and past women writers. The two activities don’t completely align: the new AWW is focusing on works published fifty or more years ago, whereas Untapped focuses on books that have gone out of print, and many of these are far more recent than 50 years old.

On the Untapped website, linked above, they have clearly outlined the steps:

  1. Identify missing books: it seems that the current collection comprises 161 books, which they describe as an “inclusive and diverse selection of lost books in need of rescue”.
  2. Find the authors and obtain the rights: this, I imagine, would have been particularly time consuming, tracking down the appropriate people to deal with – authors, estates and/or literary agents.
  3. Digitise the works: this involved scanning, then using OCR to convert the text, followed by careful proof-reading and scan quality checking. For this proofreading they focused on “hiring arts workers affected by COVID”. Then there’s all the work involved in (digital) publication, including design, metadata, royalty accounting, and uploading onto the library lending and other platforms.
  4. Promote the collection: this is where the libraries come into their own, promoting the collection in their various ways, and ensuring payment to the authors. Dorothy Johnston mentioned in her comment on my post that “we’re hoping to generate some publicity through the Geelong Regional Libraries this year”. She’d love to find any other “current or past writers living in or writing about Geelong” who might be covered by the collection. If you live in Geelong, keep an eye out for this.
  5. Collect the data and crunch the numbers: like any good project, its managers will analyse the sales and loan data. Their aim is “to understand the value of out-of-print rights to authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales”. They will feed this data, they say, “into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture”. They also hope the project might encourage new interest from commercial publishers. This research aspect is led by Rebecca Giblin, Associate Professor of Law, University of Melbourne.

As I understand it, the initial project involves this collection of 161 books, and the research will be based on this, but having created the infrastructure, they plan to “keep rescuing lost literary treasures” for as long as they have the resources to do so. The books will also be lodged at the National Library as part of its e-deposit scheme, ensuring that they’ll be available “for as long as libraries exist”.

It’s a great initiative that will spotlight work from beloved Australian authors and provide new access to those works. (Olivia Lanchester, CEO, Australian Society of Authors from Press Release)

The books

When Lisa mentioned the project, it was to say she’d bought Margaret Barbalet’s non-fiction book, Low gutter girl: The forgotten world of state wards, South Australia, 1887–1940. So, curious, I checked the site out, and bought Canberra tales, the anthology of short stories by Canberra’s Seven Writers (Margaret Barbalet, Sara Dowse, Suzanne Edgar, Marian Eldridge, Marion Halligan, Dorothy Horsfield, Dorothy Johnston) .

However, Lisa’s purchase should tell you something interesting about the collection, which is that it contains not only fiction. It includes a wide range of genres and forms, including novels, histories, memoirs, and poetry. The project also wanted a diverse collection, so there are works by First Nations author Anita Heiss, Greek-born Vogel/The Australian award winning author Jim Sakkas, and Lebanese-born writer and academic Abbas El-Zein, to name a few. Their books are all 21st century, but, there are also significantly older books, like Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Intimate strangers (1937) and M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (1947).

I thought, of course, to check my own library, the ACT Library Service, and found an announcement on their website. Not surprisingly, they draw attention to a Canberra connection, as Johnston would like to do in Geelong:

The books include some with a connection to Canberra, through the author or substantial Canberra-related content. For example: The golden dress by Marion Halligan, One for the master by Dorothy Johnston, The moth hunters by Josephine Flood, The schoonermaster’s dance by Alan Gould, and others.

I should add that all of Canberra’s Seven Writers are included.

So, a wonderful project. The question is, will it achieve its goal of ensuring the long tail of authors’ works stay available in a world where money not culture rules?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Libraries and librarians in Australian fiction

I only have myself to blame! I asked for readers to suggest topics they’d like to see in Monday Musings and two suggestions came back, one from novelist Angela Savage asking for a post on libraries and librarians in Australian fiction. Her request was inspired by her recent appointment as the CEO of Public Libraries Victoria. I was interested, but it’s not an easy subject to research …

However, before I get to the post proper, I must share this article that Paula (Book Jotter) included in her Winding Up the Week post: “Since the pandemic, an Australian library called 8,000 elderly patrons just to check in”. What this Victorian public library service did is inspiring.

Now, my post … most us probably know some of the famous novels which feature libraries and/or librarians, like Umberto Eco’s The name of the rose and Carlos Luis Zafon’s The shadow of the wind, but how many of us remember libraries and librarians in Australian novels? It’s hard, but here is a selection.

Wendy Scarfe, Hunger TownIn many cases, authors refer to libraries or librarians positively, often to establish a character as thoughtful, considered, intelligent, open-minded. Craig Silvey’s Charlie in Jasper Jones (my review), for example, visits the local library early in the novel, when he is at loose ends. He’s comfortable there – like “visiting an elderly aunt” – and he knows how to use it, from genre books to newspapers.

Wendy Scarfe’s librarian, Joe Pulham in Hunger town (my review), introduces her protagonist, Judith, to the Aristotelian idea of living moderately. There is also a librarian in Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda (my review). His protagonist finds himself in jail, and while there becomes an avid reader. Tsiolkas, perhaps partly self-mockingly, has the prison librarian comment on Danny’s reading choices:

‘Why are you always buried in those old farts?’ Danny would accept the teasing good-naturedly for he knew it was apt. Contemporary writers annoyed him, he found their worlds insular, their style too self-conscious and ironic.

The point, though, is that Danny’s becoming a reader is a positive thing in his development as a thinking person.

Book coverIn the opening chapter of Shokoofeh Azar’s The enlightenment of the greengage tree (my review), our narrator’s brother dies in a fire started by revolutionaries in the father’s library. Here the point is that our narrator’s family comprises educated progressive thinkers, just the sort of people abhorred by the leaders of Iran’s 1979 Revolution. A more famous personal library occurs in Markus Zusak’s The book thief (my review) in which young Liesel steals books from the local mayor’s wife’s library. For Leisel, the library evokes a calm, safe place, as well as a place of words whose power, she understands, can do ill and good.

Elizabeth Jolley’s grandmother protagonist in The orchard thieves (my review) ponders, on her way home from the library, the value of libraries to people who may never have had an opportunity to use them. She thinks about intruders and muggers:

… she might be held at knife point by someone in the street. She would offer all she had in her purse, small change, pension cheque and the library-book tickets. There would be absolutely no need for the villain to either strangle or stab her in order to snatch her purse. She would hold it out to him and tell him he could have it and be off. She would tell him this in plain words. The library-book tickets might even make a changed man of him, especially if he had never had a chance to use a public lending library during a life with all the deprivation brought about by being on the run.

This is quintessential Jolley (whose husband, you may know, was a university librarian.)

Book coverJolley talks about library-book tickets, prerequisites for borrowing library books. Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Cafe features another library based on a private collection – The Charles Dickens Library, which is classified as a “national treasure” – but there’s also reference to a library-book reading barmaid who gets “so bored” on her days off “when there’s nothing to read”. I haven’t read this novel, but the excerpts on Google Books show me it’s another delightful, cheeky Bird. Commenting on Angela’s request for this post, Carmel also mentioned her novel The white garden. GoodReads describes it as follows:

Carmel Bird’s examination of the secrets of the human mind is a chronicle of tragedy that is inadvertently revealed in the search for a lost library book.

Sometimes, authors describe library buildings. Steve Toltz does in Quicksand (my review). His character is sent by a bookshop to the local public library, which, when he gets there, is a “bland underwhelming brick building behind the train station” (though – phew – the library does come up with the goods). Later, he is taken to “an abandoned-looking prison courtyard reminiscent of a library on Sunday”. Hmmm, these images of libraries don’t posit them as inviting places, but Toltz’s novel is satirical, so perhaps it’s good that he thinks libraries are worth noticing?

Dymphna Cusack, JungfrauDymphna Cusack also mentions a library building in her debut novel Jungfrau (my review), when her young university student character passes one in a distressed state:

The palms swayed under the light like green fountains in the wind, and their shadows danced grotesquely on the walls of the Public Library.

Why choose the library in particular? Perhaps because this between-the-wars novel is about three young women enjoying new freedoms for women, something that libraries could be seen to epitomise.

I’ve only dipped my toes into this topic. There are many more libraries and librarians out there in Australian novels – David Malouf’s Johnno, for example, which I read long ago – but I hope this little discussion gets the rest of you thinking. You know what to do!

Monday musings on Australian literature: the Australian Common Reader

The Australian Common Reader is, says its website, “a world-leading database of digitised reading records” which “contains thousands of records of library borrowers between 1860 and 1918.” Initiated by Western Australia’s Curtin University professor Tim Dolin in 2008*, it was acquired by ANU in 2013, and is managed by its Centre for Digital Humanities Research. It was officially launched two weeks ago on June 18 – a fact which was brought to my attention by Bill (The Australian Legend.) Thanks Bill.

The libraries whose circulation records are in the database include:

  • Collie Mechanics’ Institute (WA)
  • Lambton Mechanics’ and Miners’ Institute (Newcastle, NSW)
  • Maitland Institute (Yorke Peninsula, SA)
  • Port Germein Institute (regional SA)
  • Rosedale Mechanics’ Institute (Gippsland, Vic)
  • South Australian Institute (Adelaide, SA)

These are all, I understand, mechanics’ institutes (about which I’ve written before), and are mostly located in mining towns and farming communities. Although these institutes were set up to support worker education and recreation, members of the public could also join.

The database is publicly accessible, making it a rich resource, surely, for all sorts of researchers. Certainly, Dr Julieanne Lamond, who manages the project, argues that we are lucky to have it.

The database has been designed, she says, to facilitate researchers sifting through pages of records to create a picture of Australia’s borrowing and literary history. You can search the database on:

  • Borrower occupation
  • Borrower gender
  • Book title
  • Book author
  • Borrower name

This means, Lamond said, that “you can see what the local doctor or politicians were reading, what books and authors were popular, and a library’s most prolific borrowers”. As a result “we can see that doctors were borrowing more books than solicitors and butchers were reading more than engineers.” (Hmm … I’m feeling quite glad that I’m not a big library user right now! Seriously though, this is pretty fascinating.)

Charles Dicken, c1860

Dickens, c. 1860 (Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

Stephanie Convery, writing for The Guardian Weekly, reported on the launch and says that the records tell us, for example, that:

Australian butchers in the 19th century preferred to read thrillers, miners loved novels about horse racing, while the most popular author among doctors – and the Adelaide working class in 1861 – was Charles Dickens.

Lamond points out that the records include Mathew Charlton, one of the earliest leaders of the Australian Labor Party. He was, she says, “quite an avid reader, making a total of 264 loans over a 10-year period” and “his favourite author appears to have been Edward Phillips Oppenheim, an English novelist known for writing thrillers.” Oppenheim is, in fact, the second most borrowed author in the database.

She said that the website shows Australians were diverse in their reading habits. They read Dickens, for example, but they also read the latest magazines. They read Australian fiction, as well as overseas authors. And, probably just like now, some were avid readers, while others would “borrow the same book over and over again.”

The records show that male borrowers far exceeded women, but Lamond argues that this is probably due to the sorts of libraries they were. Interestingly, she says, the data “shows that men and women read very widely across all these kinds of genres that now we think of as being quite gendered.”

Nonetheless, the data does show some different favourites. The most popular book for women was On the wings of the wind by Welsh author Anne Adaliza Puddicombe who used the male pen name of Allen Raine. She was one of the bestselling authors of the time, apparently. Woo hoo, though, women reading women! In fact, their research shows that four of the top five works borrowed by women were written by women!

By contrast, the most popular reading for men was a weekly magazine – Household Words which was edited by Charles Dickens (and about which I have also written before.) It was specifically aimed, as I quoted in my post, at “the masses” and it intended to both entertain and “shape discussion and debate on the important social questions of the time”. I love discovering that it was, indeed, popular among the people it was created for.

Overall, Lamond, quoted by Convery, says that

“People’s reading was very diverse, much more diverse than I think most of our reading is now. These people just read incredibly widely. They were reading sporting novels and political thrillers, they were reading George Eliot and Jane Austen at the same time.”

(Hmm, is she basing this comparison regarding diversity today on any evidence? Anecdotally, and defending my era, I’d say there’s a lot of diversity in today’s reading today!)

Convey makes a few other observations, including that:

  • miners were the most abundant profession represented in the data, making up nearly 13%, with the most prolific borrower being a South Australian miner named John Pellew, who borrowed 877 books from the Port Germein Institute.
  • fiction was, overall, more borrowed than non-fiction.
  • the most popularly borrowed author was Cornish Christian novelist Joseph Hocking, reflecting, perhaps the preponderance of Cornish and Welsh miners in the borrowing communities.

Lamond hopes to obtain funding to digitise more records to broaden our insight into reading habits of the past. She notes that they don’t have good data about metropolitan reading, and that these records are not really in existence:

“The stars have to align for these kinds of records to survive because often they were run by volunteer management committees, and they sat in boxes in people’s attics; they threw them out; they burnt down – a lot of historical library records have gone up in smoke, literally.”

Don’t you hate hearing about the destruction of records?

A little example

Anyhow, of course, I had to have a little play in the database myself, so I looked at the Borrower by Occupation. They are listed in order of quantity, starting with Miners (5,666 borrowings) and ending with six occupations represented by 1 borrowing, including “Authoress” and “Tea merchant”. However, it looks like the occupations were entered “free text” and that the ANU has not tried to concatenate them in any way, so, for example, there are State School Teachers, School Teachers and School Masters (and maybe even more permutations).

Using the “visualisation” option, I found state school teacher, Frances Cairns, who borrowed 326 books, of which 318 were fiction. The author she borrowed most was Scottish author and minister, George MacDonald, but I was delighted to see that she also borrowed a book by the cheeky Australian author Elizabeth von Arnim. One of the eight non-fiction works she borrowed was Daniel Crawford’s Thinking black, which, says Wikipedia, “was recommended reading for those Europeans who wanted to work in partnership with, rather than over, Africans.” I wonder what was behind this? The visualisation option was fun, but probably more useful is the fact that you can also download spreadsheets of your searches to do further analysis.

And here I will close on this fascinating project, but do have a play if you are interested,

* Another report says that the database commenced in 2001! Who knows? Maybe both are right, and it’s a matter of defining “start”?

Delicious descriptions: Elizabeth Jolley on the value of libraries

Elizabeth Jolley, The orchard thievesRegular readers will know that in June I joined in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Elizabeth Jolley Week by posting two reviews, one of which was for the novella Orchard thieves. In that post I mentioned the sly humour, but I didn’t really share a quote to demonstrate it. However, I knew that I could always write a Delicious Descriptions post, so here it is.

It comes when the grandmother is walking home from the library. She had urged one of her extra library-book tickets to another library patron because “she knew how awful it was to get home only to discover that the books were familiar, having been read before.” As a librarian by profession, I loved it.

Anyhow, our grandmother is also a bit of a worrier, regularly thinking about various disasters that could befall her or her family:

On the way home the grandmother thought about the special kind of wealth there was in the possession of library-book tickets. They were reassuring and steady like the pension cheque. She never went anywhere without her purse. You could never know in advance what the day had in store. There might come a time when it would be necessary to offer all she had to appease an intruder. She knew of women who spread crumpled and torn newspapers all round their beds at night so that they would hear an intruder coming closer. Or, she might be held at knife point by someone in the street. She would offer all she had in her purse, small change, pension cheque and the library-book tickets. There would be absolutely no need for the villain to either strangle or stab her in order to snatch her purse. She would hold it out to him and tell him he could have it and be off. She would tell him this in plain words. The library-book tickets might even make a changed man of him, especially if he had never had a chance to use a public lending library during a life with all the deprivation brought about by being on the run.

I mean, really, don’t you love it?

Monday musings on Australian literature: National Libraries Day (UK)

Caroline of Book Word blog has written a wonderful post about National Libraries Day in the UK, which took place just this last weekend, on Saturday, 6th February. Caroline provides three witnesses to argue for the value of libraries:

  • Peter Balaba, Head Librarian, Nakaseke Community Library, Uganda, who talks about the outreach programs they provide in a book-poor region.
  • novelist Zadie Smith who tried, but failed, to save Kensal Rise Library in London and who notes the government’s shameful behaviour, saying that “it’s always difficult to explain to people with money what it’s like to have very little”.
  • novelist Ali Smith who last year published Public library and other stories, which is so titled not because there’s a story titled “Public library” (there isn’t) but because interspersed through it are “comments from other bookish people about the importance of libraries”. Love this.

ALIA Library Lovers Day 2016 GraphicYou’re probably wondering why I’m telling this story in my Monday musings on Australian literature post series. Well, firstly it’s because I thought it was a great initiative and wondered whether we have anything like this here in Australia.  I found that we do have something similar: ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association)’s nomination of Valentine’s Day as ALIA Library Lovers Day. They suggest a bunch of activities that libraries can use to promote library love (including using the social media hashtag #librarylove) and they have merchandise for sale. There’s a 2015 wrap up page which suggests that only a few assorted libraries around Australia took up the idea but those which did seemed to have got into the swing of it. What I didn’t find on their site is any sort of overall statement about the day – its genesis and history, its goals, its long term plans. Clearly it is about encouraging people to use their libraries, but is there a stronger, more coordinated political agenda?

I searched a little more and found an online article on a site called Infotoday. The article, written in 2011 it seems, says this:

As with many great ideas, the genesis of LLD is lost in time, but here in NSW we launched our first LLD in 2006, claiming Feb. 14 for library lovers and renaming it in honor of their passion. To celebrate, public libraries across NSW gave away more than 50,000 “love libraries” wristbands in green, blue, and orange and invited their clients to wear their hearts on their wrists. In 2007, the campaign went national under the auspices of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and Public Libraries Australia (PLA) as their first combined advocacy event. (Today Australia, tomorrow the world!)

So it sounds like it’s been going for around 10 years now. The article describes some of the activities that have happened over the years, and concludes that LLD has been

an enduring and unqualified success story for NSW public libraries. Staff members love to get involved by dressing in red and pink, decorating their libraries, baking, and choosing and reviewing books. And the community members welcome the opportunity to thank library staff, enjoy a chocolate or two, and share their love of books and reading.

Again, it doesn’t say how they define or measure success of the program, but it sounds pretty localised and low key (not to mention rather female oriented. Aren’t there any male librarians? Not that men can’t enjoy baking or dressing in red and pink, but …!) Still, I’m glad there’s something promotional happening.

My other reason for writing this post is that it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of quotes from Steve Toltz’s Quicksand, which I reviewed last week. Here’s our anti-hero looking for a book:

The salesgirl at the third bookstore I tried suggested the local branch of the public library. I know what you’re thinking bailiffs: What is this, 1996? I raced through the streets as if through a time tunnel, to the bland underwhelming brick building behind the train station. My heart sank when I came across an island desk with twenty computer terminals, leather couches and espresso machines, but upon asking the librarian directed me to the appropriate shelf. It was there …

Not very positive really, but the second reference is worse:

After half an hour drive, the van halted and the door opened onto an abandoned-looking prison courtyard reminiscent of a library on Sunday.

Hmm … I guess it’s a good thing that Toltz notices libraries enough to satirise them, but if his is a common attitude it’s a worry.

Are you aware of a library promotion “day” in your neck of the woods? And, if so, do you take part?