Mark’s Say: February, 2021
After having been closed for the best part of a year, the State Library of Victoria (SLV), one of Australia’s most-loved and most-used cultural institutions, is open again. There’s no need to book but as a precaution, visitors will have to scan a QR code. Just prior to lockdown the library had completed a major renovation with many magnificent heritage spaces reopened to the public after decades of closure. For CEO Kate Torney the closure was difficult. ‘It felt counterintuitive,’ she said. ‘So often libraries play a critical role as a community hub and trusted source of information during a crisis.’ Like many organisations she and her colleagues thought of different ways to engage with the public. Ironically, this has enabled the library to connect with more people in regional Victoria and beyond. Despite the lockdown, Kate is optimistic about the future. The renovations give the library many more opportunities to engage with the public, with more spaces and better facilities.
Readings has been part of the State Library for many years, so it has been equally hard for us to have had our SLV branch closed for such a long time, and we were all thrilled when we reopened a few weeks ago for the first time since last July. Kate commented: ‘Readings is such a huge part of the SLV experience, and I loved seeing the new Russell Street space thrive when it opened in 2019. The design makes it a seamless experience for library visitors. With Readings reopening, it feels like the Library is really coming back to life.’
For our staff at the SLV Readings the lockdown was also tricky. Our manager Claire Atherfold told me: ‘It is hard to describe what it means to me to be back at the Readings SLV bookshop after so long away over 2020. Being surrounded by literary sustenance once more, it is enticing, engaging and just simply a breath of much needed fresh air. I can’t wait to share this with our customers again.’
To encourage you to rediscover, or indeed discover, this beautiful Readings shop we are offering a 20% discount on all full price books for two weeks this month: from Monday 15 February to Sunday 28 February.
About 10 years ago, then-director of the Wheeler Centre Michael Williams and I were discussing how the Wheeler Centre could support emerging writers. In the Wheeler Centre building, there is a gallery that runs most of the length of the building, an ideal space to plonk some desks for writers to use. Combine that with the ability for aspiring writers to mix with the Wheeler Centre folk, and it seemed like it could be a perfect hothouse of creativity. Readings agreed to throw in $20,000 a year, which would be enough for a small stipend and some admin, and the Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships were born. Over the years, around 150 writers have passed through. Many of the writers have had their works published including Ronnie Scott, Kirsty Murray, Jennifer Down, Rajith Savanadasa, Alice Bishop and Laura Jean McKay. I was particularly thrilled that Jennifer Down’s collection of short stories, Pulse Points, was the 2018 winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. And I am absolutely thrilled that Laura Jean McKay’s novel The Animals in That Country has just been announced as the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, Australia’s richest literary award. As well as winning the fiction category, it won the overall Victorian Prize for Literature as the best book of the year. Set in a not-too-distant future Australia where a pandemic is sweeping the country, it’s certainly a novel for our times. Our reviewer Alison Huber called it ‘hugely entertaining and superbly crafted’.