The Fully Equipped Library Warrior

Bris­bane libraries are busy places these days. Even some Aus­tralians use them. For a large tribe of young East Asians on work­ing hol­i­day visas, liv­ing four to a room in West End, libraries are a god­send. And of course, those other young folk, the inter­na­tional stu­dents pay­ing us six­teen bil­lion dol­lars a year for the priv­i­lege of a dubi­ous diploma with an Aus­tralian address, libraries are the Terra Aus­tralis ver­sion of sweat­shops where they labour to secure the family’s pros­per­ity back home. I don’t begrudge them, even when study time slips into SM text-friend time. After all, their Aus­tralian dou­bles are mostly some­where else, on a beach or in a bar.

I spend a fair bit of time in Bris­bane libraries. It is a gen­er­a­tional acci­dent. Ridicu­lously fit at 66, I am forever writ­ing stuff that nobody will every read, study­ing for a career that never was and could only hap­pen in the next life, or just per­versely find­ing out about new things. Granted, as a self-respect­ing 66 year old I should be a wad­dling mass of fail­ing pro­to­plasm, kept alive with seven day boxes of dif­fer­ent coloured pills, TV addicted and blow­ing any sur­plus from smokes and tin­nies of beer on a weekly spin with the pok­ies. It’s a shame, but I just can’t be typ­i­cal about this. I have to learn and grow. On the other hand, look­ing  at the four walls of a small rented room, the near­est to lux­ury that a pen­sion allows, gets one down after a while. So some­times I have this unrea­son­able itch to go out into the wide world again. Sit­ting in a sub­way train for the fif­teen min­ute ride into the city, I mouth my Chi­nese vocab­u­lary prac­tice and try not to look too hard at the forest of tat­tooed limbs sprawled akimbo all about. They think I’m weird too. Queen Street mall pulses with an inter­na­tional caste that def­i­nitely belongs more to a 4-to-a-dor­mi­tory back­packer world than the wet dream fan­tasies of cor­po­rate exec­u­tives and city coun­cilors, hop­ing to attract an Armani suite and Chris­tian Doir hand­bag set. That’s cool with me. Queen Street is free enter­tain­ment with­out events orga­niz­ers, breath­less press hand­outs and $120 entry tick­ets to keep the riff-raff out.

And so to the library. Libraries. There are a cou­ple of them. The City Library has hours brief enough to make a bank clerk weep with envy, and taped announce­ments in five lan­guages every few min­utes to watch your belong­ings. Still, if luck’s in I can find a quiet spot on the third floor to work for a while. The view over the river is pretty spe­cial too. Across that river is the State Library, part of a very large and impres­sive arts com­plex. A State Library, hmm. This is no sub­ur­ban cor­ner place for grand­mas to get their weekly nov­els. Nope, a State Library is a hush hush place for Seri­ous Research. Isn’t it? Well no. Not in Queens­land any­way. The Queens­land State Library is actu­ally a large, open plan child­care enter­tain­ment cen­tre. You know, face paint, games, a pro­fes­sional sto­ry­teller who can belt it out just the way kids like it. And of course, an army of squeal­ing ankle biters. Now I hap­pen to be very fond of kids. They even like me, usu­ally. In this Queens­land library envi­ron­ment though, I have to admit I’m a fail­ure, an evo­lu­tion­ary reject over­taken by the polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness of the age. When it comes to cre­ative think­ing, or pars­ing the mean­ing out of a trea­tise on tech­ni­cal lin­guis­tics, while simul­ta­ne­ously fight­ing off the multi-decibal assault of kids and car­ers, well I can’t cut it. Yes, it’s my fault. It must be. After all, the library staff them­selves, in both libraries, go around talk­ing in loud voices. As trained pro­fes­sion­als, they must know best that an up-to-date, fully cor­rect per­son does not need silence in a library. A cou­ple of times I’ve shyly asked about this, and sensed the with­er­ing out­rage and pity that the fully cor­rect Aus­tralian offi­cial type reserves for pae­dophiles and train ticket cheats.

Not to worry. I’ve solved it. Solved the prob­lem of sur­viv­ing in Bris­bane libraries. As usual it was the Chi­nese who came to the res­cue. Wan­der­ing dis­traught in one of those Chi­nese-every­thing shops which have clearly thrived from those of us liv­ing on pen­sions and unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, I came across a trea­sure. Dis­guised in bub­ble wrap, look­ing entirely orphaned in a land­scape of $2 plas­tic plates and $1.95 dog tooth­paste, I came across a $3.95 pair of indus­trial ear muffs. You know, those big head cups full of foam or some­thing that gents in flu­o­res­cent vests wear while they jack-ham­mer con­crete foot­paths. Per­fect, unbeat­able. So then next time one of those haughty, bleat­ing offi­cials heaves in sight, or a scrum of shriek­ing kids hijacks the car­pet, I’ll just rip out my shiny bright orange indus­trial ear muffs and stare them down.

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