Mark’s Say: August, 2021
The protracted lockdowns and the depopulation of city offices has had a terrible impact on bookshops in the City of Melbourne area. As one lockdown ends, these shops have struggled to rebuild their business, only to be hit with another lockdown. In our case, our shop in the State Library is 60% down on its pre-pandemic levels, our Carlton shop 12–20%, and it’s a similar story for our colleagues at The Paperback, Hill of Content Bookshop, Mary Martin Bookshop, North Melbourne Books and Dymocks in Collins Street. With the support of the City of Melbourne, we want to encourage you to rediscover our marvellous bookshops and writers. Starting in August, we City of Melbourne bookshops will select a book a month by a Melbourne author that we think showcases the incredible talent we have in this city. We’re pricing them at 25% off to encourage you to give them a try. At the end of each month, the Wheeler Centre and the Melbourne Writers Festival (COVID-19 willing) will be hosting a special event with the author – so buy the book, read the book and attend the event. Our little project is called Melbourne City Reads, and the first book is a debut novel by Allee Richards called Small Joys of Real Life which I’ve glowingly reviewed in these pages. ABC Radio Melbourne is also supporting us, and the marvellous Jacinta Parsons will be talking to Allee at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 8 September. I do hope you will support us and our wonderful authors.
As I’m writing this, Victoria is ending its fifth lockdown and Sydney has extended its lockdown until the end of August. Many of our staff have been frantically trying to navigate the Federal government’s complicated COVID-19 Disaster Payment Scheme. Originally the scheme excluded anyone already receiving other government payments such as Austudy, carers payments or parental payments, no matter how small. Now, they will get $200 if they are receiving benefits. Many of our staff fall into that category; one staff member receives a $20 parental payment which means they can’t access the $600 payment. How the government imagines they are going to survive on $220 a week is beyond me.
One morning recently, I asked my colleague Tye Cattanach how she was. Tye surprised me by saying that she’d presented a paper at an international conference of school librarians that morning. As well as her role as a bookseller, Tye helps out at the School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV) and together with SLAV executive officer Susan La Marca and SLAV consultant Monica Williams, they have developed an online review platform called Shelftalkers. Shelftalkers is a website that publishes 100-word student reviews of books they are reading. School libraries facilitate the reviews and students of any age can post reviews. The goal of Tye and her colleagues is to give students a voice, give school library staff and publishers an insight into student views, and allow participating school libraries to be central players in the literacy development and reading culture of their respective schools. It should also become an invaluable resource for publishers and writers who will be able to hear directly from their readers. The writing skills required to write a short review help young reviewers hone their skills in description, analysis, comparison, and persuasion. The site accepts reviews in English from anywhere in the world. Not surprisingly, Tye’s presentation was greeted with universal enthusiasm from her international audience, and since the conference, reviews from various countries' schools and libraries are in the process of being submitted.