Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Things I discovered at the Auckland Central Library

It’s not about books: it’s about the world.

Don’t be scared of bothering a librarian.

The question people ask is not necessarily the one they want answered.

It’s best to get the most authoritative source you can, and cite it.

A library is not the most convenient place in which to have a crush.

Hundred-year-old dust is darker and grittier than the newer kind.

‘No Ordinary Sun’, the poem by Hone Tuwhare.

Spy books come back smelling of cigarette smoke; occult books rarely return.

Libraries collect people of all kinds, and do not shelve them.

Beware the late-night cleaner in the third-floor cafeteria.

Not everything good is new or bought (sometimes it is old and borrowed).

A stink bomb set off in the lift will pong everywhere.

The library is where the plot thickens.

* * *

From the stacks at Auckland Central Library recently I requested Shirley Maddock’s Islands of the Gulf, which I’m reading as an extension of my research into this latitude of Auckland. First published in 1966, it’s something of a New Zealand classic, though it may have sat quietly in the basement storage for quite some time. The old “date due” slip pasted in the back above the barcode indicates that it was borrowed six times between 1982 and 1995, during the life of the library’s early Plessey issuing system.

Islands of the Gulf, a weighty book, is an enjoyable read with a ton of photos by Don Whyte. These are listed (as good books used to do with “tables of illustrations” or “plates”) over three pages just after the table of contents. 

What particularly struck me the moment I opened it was that just inside, after the endpapers with their map of the Hauraki Gulf, the book’s previous owner had written her name and the date:

Coral Ridling
Dec. 66.

Miss Ridling — her staff wouldn’t dream of calling her by her first name — headed the Social Sciences Department of the Central Library in the 1980s when I went to work there as a young student in my Christmas holidays (see ‘the best and worst library experience you’ve had’ in this interview, and its comments), so seeing her handwriting brought back memories. She taught me many things in my first job and was witty as well as efficient. To me she was very kind.
Several things I learned from her are above; the other items on the list all date back to that time.

Several libraries around New Zealand are led by Miss Ridling’s former staff, and looking online I found her described as a “respected mentor” who “always maintained that the day one did not learn something new in libraries was the day to look for new work”.

Miss Ridling gave Islands of the Gulf and years of service to the library, but she gave much more to lots of people. She lived in Grey Lynn, used the public libraries during her retirement, was active in the University of the Third Age, and died a few years ago.


  1. Giddy to find your blog today --we are library lovers in Northern Michigan. (Book lovers too!)

    These discoveries are priceless!! I especially like "the library is where the plot thickens!!"

    Maybe one day we'll get to visit all these lovely places --such inspired libraries!

    Next Monday we are going to visit Troy Library (the library with the lovely Children's letters! That is how we found you!) We are studying the letters, so much to learn from the past! (if you want to follow along about the letters and our library fun --here is our website/blog:

    Looking forward to traveling vicariously with you!!
    (The Mom, The Big Sister, The Little Sister and The Dad

  2. Hi Claire, I think I remember you. I was one of Coral's girls, I worked under her from 1982 to 1988. First as a shared junior with Commerce Science and Technology. Yes she was great, we would have wonderful staff meetings, I (and several colleagues)smoked at the time and so was she, so smoking was allowed!cough cough, gasp... We would have breakfasts and dinners, picnics in Cornwall park and a memorable afternoon tea at her home.
    She was great at managing us and constantly rotated our tasks so we all had experience of each other's roles. We were allowed to order books for purchase, she would take the time to check everyone's orders and OK them or tell us why they weren't going to be bought.
    I worked in libraries for 30 years, until the end of last year - I often remembered Miss Ridling-isms as I went about my daily library life.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Cheers, Helen Thatcher

  3. Hello Helen,

    Lovely to hear from you. I think there were two Helens and two Sarahs? The Social Sciences Dept and Miss Ridling offered a wonderful introduction to libraries and the world of work.

    I'll never forget being allowed to staff the library Information Desk on my own for an hour at the end of my first week. In those pre-internet days, especially during lunch when the Information desker fielded the library's incoming telephone calls, this felt like being in the driver's seat of a very large vehicle.

    Thanks for reading, and for following Latitude of Libraries.