Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Up the Stairs and Into the Library

Remuera library, 1970s, cropped from
A Fine Prospect, a history of Remuera.
Sir George Grey Special Collections,
Auckland Libraries, 435-D6-2.
The Remuera Public Library: a Possible Part One

Up the stairs and into the library. Turn right (though I didn’t know that, I didn’t know my left from my right) and there’s the children’s area. 

That’s the Remuera library then, not now: then, when I was a child in the early ’70s. And it’s my library, only my library, that I can tell you about. I have no idea about the rest of it. No idea, either, where in the library my mother went or what she did. I had my own concerns.

I’d gather a stack of picturebooks — the number thirteen comes to mind. There wouldn’t have been thirteen books every time, but it was always an armload for a small person. Perhaps I needed some help to carry them.

The desk was next to the children’s section, I think, in front of the entrance. Issuing the books, or taking them out, as we called it, was a mystery involving envelopes and cards with coloured stripes and holes punched in them in a seemingly random manner. The envelopes, or pockets, were stuck in the books. The librarian would put the correct card in the envelope. That would tell us when the book had to be back. Mum would have to pay money if we lost the card. I never heard if that happened, and I don’t remember returning the books. Mum must have organised that. 

The due date was no concern of mine.
There was a favourite story about a tugboat; it went home with me several times. Was it Scuffy, Tommy, Timmy, Mary, Joe, Toot, Little Toot or some other? I don’t know. And what is it about children and tugboats? When I type “tugboat” into the library catalogue now, 30 entries come up for children. One is a toy (an actual toy that you can borrow); several are non-fiction; the odd one is not especially about tugs (The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, Machines Go to Work). But yes: there are lots of stories about tugboats.

My grandfather had designed the Remuera library. I was aware of this, though it didn’t seem special and I didn’t skite about it. For all I knew, everybody’s grandfather designed libraries, just as the buildings might all have been brick, like this one. There were books, that was the thing. 

From Timmy the Tug; Ted Hughes, ill. Jim Downer.
I had my own at home — bookshelves of my own, even, in my own room — but I could never own enough. And once I thought I’d done with picturebooks, home from the library came Mrs Pepperpot, Milly-Molly-Mandy, Pippi Longstocking and the Moomins (most of those, interestingly, by Scandinavian authors). Swallows and Amazons left me cold — strange, given my adventuring ways and love of Tintin, but in the future City of Sails I was no sailor. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago I discovered a taste for Titty, John, Susan, Roger and the rest.

Up the stairs and into the library. 

P.S. One of Arthur Ransome's major characters in Swallows and Amazons really is called Titty. Sadly, it would never happen nowadays. 


  1. I always thought the Moomins were a bit freaky...but I did love Swallows and Amazons!
    Have you been to Takapuna library yet?

  2. How could you not, sailor Sarah? No, haven't been to Takapuna yet, but I'm looking forward to it, especially now I don't have to borrow someone else's library card.

  3. I've just bought Pippi Longstocking for my granddaughter! Now that she's at school her favourite day is Friday - library day. But that all started at public libraries. Not sure about the automatic checkouts though - no stamps for children's hands. You don't mention that, so maybe for you there was no agonising decision about whether to have a fairy, a pirate ...

  4. Is there wheelchair access to it these days?

  5. Yes, Old Geezer, there is: shortly I'll publish another post that mentions this and shows a pic. If the pic's too small, click on it and you should be able to see a bigger version. Thanks for asking!

  6. And Diane: a pirate, please, any day. But no, there were no hand-stamps in my library childhood.

  7. The highlight of our week in the'50's was going to the old Hutt Library. I remember Orlando the Marmelade Cat and the wonderful Seabird by Holling Clancy Holling. I liked Timpetil by Manfred Michael so much that I bought it second-hand many years later. It's about a Swiss village where the children wake up one day to find all the adults have vanished. Any plans to visit libraries around the country Claire?

  8. No specific plans but I did think that if I find myself Elsewhere, I might drop in to its local library.