Goulburn Day VIEW Club | Life an open book in library talk

Erin Williams, manager of Goulburn Mulwaree Library, was our guest speaker for our June luncheon.

Born and raised in Goulburn, Erin went to St Joseph’s Primary School and to Marian College before moving to Canberra for 10 years to study and work, moving back to Goulburn in 2010.

As a teenager she was heavily involved with the local community radio station FM 103.3 and the Lieder Theatre, and is still very much involved with the theatre now.

Erin started her talk about libraries and the history of public libraries and about how she ended up a librarian (almost by accident), and her role at Goulburn Library since she started there in February last year.

Public libraries are some of the oldest public institutions in the world. Their mandate is to provide access to basic library services completely free of charge to all members of the community. Public libraries are some of the most community minded, non-judgmental, and openly welcoming buildings that you’ll find in any town or city in the world.

Their doors are open to everyone, collections and services are available free of charge to everyone, and library staff are typically completely motivated to help people, whether it’s helping with writing a resume, learning to read, learning to use computers and other technology, or just finding a good novel to read.

Public libraries have been in existence for centuries. In Britain in 1464 provision was made for a library to be erected in Bristol which allowed ‘all who wish to enter for the sake of instruction’ to have free access at certain designated times.

In the early 17th century, many British colleges and libraries were founded, the earliest Norwich City Library in 1608. Bear in mind that these were not lending libraries, and nor were they available to people who couldn’t read or to children.

In the 18th century, libraries became increasingly more and more public, and many became lending libraries (as opposed to chaining books to desks, which was common practice before this).

The first modern public library, as we’ve come to know them, publicly funded and open to everyone, opened in New Hampshire in the United States in 1833.

In Australia, Melbourne Public Library opened in 1856, followed in 1869 by the Free Public Library, Sydney. These are now known as the State Libraries of Victoria and New South Wales, and they were not lending libraries, purely reference only. Many early lending libraries were small, privately owned and operated, and ran on a subscription basis for those who could afford to access them.

In 1935 the Free Public Library Movement was established in NSW, advocating for free public libraries to be supported by municipal authorities and funds.

In 1939 the NSW State Parliament passed the Library Act, legislation leading to the provision of free public library services for the people of NSW.

Goulburn’s first library, opened in 1854, was run by the Goulburn Mechanics Institute. Housed at the Commercial Hotel, and then the house of a committee member. It eventually settled in the new Mechanics Institute Building in Auburn Street and operated as a subscription library. In 1856 the collection comprised of a total of 811 books. In February 1945 Goulburn adopted the NSW Library Act, and in July 1946 the Institute Library became the Goulburn City Library, a truly public library.

Since then, Goulburn Library has been through many iterations and partnerships with other councils: the Southern Tablelands Regional Library, the Southern Tablelands Library Cooperative, and as of July this year will be a fully independent library, although it will continue to provide services and shared access to our collections with Upper Lachlan Shire Council (Crookwell and Gunning Libraries) through a service level agreement.

Public libraries are funded by your taxes, via a governing body. In our case that is the Goulburn Mulwaree Council. Goulburn Library provide a large range of services for the Goulburn region including: storytime and early childhood education sessions for babies, and pre-schoolers; school visits for primary school children; an HSC support collection; a literacy and ESL collection to support teenagers and adults with low literacy levels and English as their second language; a large collection of over 50,000 non-fiction, fiction, large print, audio books, DVDs and CDs, children’s books, graphic novels, games, magazines and newspapers; a massive online collection of millions of digitised materials such as books, journals and newspapers; a special local history and family history collection; regular author talks, workshops and activities for adults; book clubs; craft groups; computer training courses; 19 trained library staff.

Erin ended up working in libraries almost by accident. She was studying a Bachelor of Communication in Media Production at the University of Canberra and needed a job, a normal uni student type job, and was looking for work as a waitress or in a shop or something.

A friend at the time was studying for a library technician qualification and had gotten a job at the National Library of Australia. He called her one day to let her know they were looking for casual staff. So, in her typically outspoken and assertive way, Erin called his boss to get one of these casual jobs. He said they were looking for people with library training and experience, and Erin said that if she could find a book on the shelf in her local library then she could do it there too. And that was that, really.

Erin wasn’t really aware that she was talking to a manager at a Commonwealth government department, and the largest library in the southern hemisphere. She has, of course, since learned that this is not an appropriate way to get a government job, but it seemed to work for whatever reason.

Erin worked as a casual at the NLA for a few years before applying for a permanent job at the University of Canberra Library. Still studying for her media production degree, she had applied for a part time job at the uni library. They offered her a full time job and a few months after she started they made an offer: if she changed her degree and study to become a librarian, they’d pay for it. Erin had three subjects to complete in her media degree before she could graduate with a Bachelor of Communication in Media Production. So what did she do – gave all that up and started again.

Erin studied part time for a further few years, and then graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Communication in Information Management, making her, officially, a librarian. Erin’s career has included work at the University of Canberra Library, Australian Bureau of Statistics and GeoScience Australia libraries (2 small internal government department libraries), and then back to the National Library where she stayed for 10 years. Before leaving the National Library Erin was the manager of the Main and Special Collections Reading Rooms, two of the largest public reading rooms in the Southern Hemisphere, typically seeing up to 30,000 visitors a month.

Moving back to Goulburn in 2010, Erin commuted to Canberra each day for about six years before she applied for and got the position as manager of Goulburn Mulwaree Library, starting on leap day last year, February 29. Since starting at the Goulburn Library, Erin has been thrilled to be back home, and serving the needs of her own town and her own community.

And it’s been a really big year at the Library. Library staff have been working really hard to increase the public profile of the Library, to get outside the library doors and make themselves known to more people. Looking really closely at the collections and the programs and activities, to improve the range of options for people to access.

Some of the major things staff have been working on have included:

- Goulburn’s first ever Reader Writer Festival, held over two days in November last year, with about 30 different events, talks, and workshops. They will be holding their second festival in March next year;

- Increasing and improving our local history collection – including introducing a new family history training course, starting next week;

- Launching the Big READ Bus mobile library, which visits 14 locations (outlying primary schools and retirement homes in town) every three weeks and will increase in July to include three new locations;

- Improving our collections with more regular weeding to make space for more new materials, new gaming collections, improved online access to digital collections, additional shelving to make more space for books, and ongoing ‘beautifying’ of the library space to make it more welcoming and enjoyable to be in;

- Attracting more well-known authors and presenters to Goulburn Library, including Tara Moss, Fiona McIntosh, Costa Georgiadis, Tim Fischer, Christine Anu;

- Comic Con, attracting about 5000 visitors in a single day, making it one of the largest public events held in Goulburn;

- Launched a number of social craft groups – Yarn & Tea Time, adult colouring in, sketch club; and, amongst all that –

- a complete staffing restructure, a whole lot of recruitment, and managing 20 odd staff through a period of extreme change.

So it’s been a big year. Erin really proud of where the Library is, and how much positive attention and feedback they are getting from the community.

The Library has a new quarterly guide of events, and a new monthly column in the Post Weekly, telling everyone what they are up to and what’s coming up at the library.

At the end of the day – Goulburn Library is here for you. It exists solely to provide you with access to books, literature, technology, training, events, and a warm and welcoming space for you to visit and use.

So that means, Erin’s job is to make sure the Library is meeting the needs of everyone in this community, to make sure that people automatically think ‘I can do that or get that or get help with that in the library’, making people believe that Goulburn Library is the best Library it can possibly be for the Goulburn community.

They still have some work to do in some fields – they are working on improving their relationship with the local high schools, with the migrant and refugee communities, and with those people in Goulburn with low literacy and education levels.

If there’s anything at all that you think the library could or should be doing, then Erin and staff definitely want to hear about that, and work with the community to provide whatever is in their power (and budget) to do.

Just briefly – Erin’s other love, and perhaps the thing that has shaped her the most as a person – the Lieder Theatre. Erin first joined the Lieder in 1993 when her music teacher at Marian College asked her if she wanted to work backstage on a production of Steel Magnolias. Since then it’s been difficult to keep her away from the theatre.

Erin has been involved in dozens of productions both on stage and in various production roles, has been on the theatre’s board of management, and was vice-president for several years, acts as a youth chaperone for youth theatre events, and is currently the editor of the Lieder newsletter, and she has traveled with the theatre to perform in the Czech Republic, England, Monaco, Spain, and the United States.

For a small regional theatre, the Lieder have an amazing number of young people who have gone on to have careers in the industry. Josh Churchill and Mark Churchill recently graduated from NIDA, and they are the most recent two of dozens of young Goulburn people who have been involved in the Lieder Theatre and who now work in various fields from directing and acting to puppetry, design, clowning and acrobatics, and production management.

It’s an incredible place. Erin credits the theatre and the people there for helping to shape the person that she is today.

The importance of arts education and access to the arts for everyone, Erin believes, is as important as free and equal access to library resources and services. Everything, from communication skills, team work, organisation skills, appreciation of language and culture, exposure to different cultures and ways of life, understanding of the human soul, relationships, love, tragedy – it’s all inside the doors of a theatre.

Read books. Go to the theatre. Listen to music. Learn. Love. Challenge yourself. Be happy. You can do all of this at your local library and at your local theatre.

At the end of her presentation Erin answered questions from members and guests and was presented with a gift in appreciation by Marie Pedlow.

June Social Day

For the June Social Day members traveled to the Grabby Pub for a delicious seafood lunch. This gem hidden within the small township of Grabben Gullen is truly worth a visit for a great meal. Hosts Debbie and Ray always make you feel welcome and the food will always bring you back for more. If you have not been make sure you go next time or get a group together and give it a try.


Goulburn Day VIEW Club meets on the first Thursday (next: August 3) of each month at the Goulburn Soldiers Club. If anyone would like to join us for our Luncheons or for further information on Goulburn Day VIEW Club please contact Margaret on 4822 1859 or go online to view.org.au

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