Library Hopping in Perth, Australia

Words by George Tsangaris

I was raised in Limassol, Cyprus, a city more known for its nightlife and beaches than libraries. Growing up there, I knew of only two libraries. The first was the Limassol Public Library; an ornate building that was always under renovation. The second library was our school library, which was in a converted kitchen. Needless to say I did not use either much however when I moved to Australia and began writing my book I found myself spending increasing amounts of time in libraries.  

Overtime I realised that each library seemed to have a unique theme. There were differences in the services they offered, their architecture and outdoor spaces. Different libraries attracted different people, from students with heavy backpacks, to aspiring writers, designers, pensioners and businessmen. They had a communal setting where a group of strangers worked together but separately and they provided a space of silence in a world of endless chatter.

In order to survive, libraries have evolved from being stuffy places of dusty books to into community centres, places to work and as cultural landmarks. In tribute to the libraries of Perth, and libraries everywhere, here are some of the libraries on my circuit. 

The Grove Library

One of the busiest libraries is the library in Peppermint Grove, which is located at the end of leafy neighbourhood filled with mansions that are reminiscent Savannah or Charleston in the US. When I visited the Grove Library was peppered with students in sports gear and businesspeople catching up on their notes. As well as becoming a community space with a coffee shop the library has a learning area for children, which means there are young mothers walking around with their babies. As I sat writing in a corner I felt a tug on my shoes. Looking down I saw that a toddler was pulling on them. A mother ran up to me saying ‘sorry, my son likes shoes’ and promptly collected her baby. Her kid also had good taste; those were Yohji Yamamoto shoes he was grabbing, and what’s not like about Yohjis?   
Who would you find there? Rick Kids of Instagram, yummy mummies and entrepreneurs. 

Nedlands Library

Seeking silence I discovered Nedlands Library. The library’s grounds are filled with the fauna typical of western Australia. Home to an array of exotic birds I would often find their feathers lying in the leaves. The library has a vintage feel to it, like stepping back to the 1970s. The library’s design is that of clean, straight lines and an open-plan layout. Most books are placed downstairs while the main study area is upstairs on a large indoor balcony. The children’s section is separate from the rest of the library ensuring the silence needed to write or study and there is a fantastic Young Adults section comprised of manga and comic books. Like other libraries, it offers a service called Books on Wheels, which delivers books to older people in the community. 
Who would you find there? Wonder Woman, hipster students and the cast of That ‘70s Show.

Claremont Library

Nestled amid an up-market shopping area you’d be forgiven for thinking that the beautiful redbrick building is the local Church. It is now Claremont Library, which was founded in 1922 as a Methodist Church and functioned as such for 57 years. Having made its conversion into a library, the building has kept much of its original architecture such as the high ceilings providing the library an airy feel and intricate stained-glass windows that are illuminated from the sun. It was cosy and welcoming, and not only made me want to browse for books to read, but pull out a blanket, lie on the floor and read there and then.
Who would you find there? The Disney Princesses.

Reed Library

Reed Library was filled the sounds of students zipping around looking for books or whispering in hushed tones in corners. I walked around looking for a place to work and chose a quiet place overlooking the lawns of the university grounds. I was overcome by nostalgia, longing for my student days… where, I have to admit, I spent more time in nightclubs than book clubs so feeling restless I wondered outside and discovered lush gardens, so well-tended, that they looked like they were photoshoped onto reality. I sat by the library’s outdoor area, which has a large pond that spans the full length of the space. Ripples from the water reflected on the ceiling. Rather than write I sat in the sun warming myself, sipping coffee and people-watched. Correction: student-watched.
Who would you find there? Students energetically buzzing around like bees.

City of Perth Library

Stepping into the City of Perth Library is like stepping into a pearl. Sleek and modern, it is much bigger than it looks. Located in the heart of the city the library has a circular shape comprising of seven floors with the top floor becoming a terrace that has views of the surrounding skyscrapers and the Swan River. As I made my way around the building I could not help but notice the artwork that decorated the library, the most stunning of which was a painting on the library’s roof. I had not known about it until I walked by and stepped in on a whim. It is Perth’s best kept secret. 
Who would you find there? Anyone and everyone… who know about it. 

Dust off the notion that libraries are stuffy. Libraries are evolving as spaces for reading and working but also as community spaces. More people than ever are reading. More books are leaping off the shelves and onto our TV screen as Netflix series. And it seems like at least 10% of the images on Instagram are that of a book next to a cake and coffee. Just check out ♯Bookstagram. We live in an increasingly virtual world with fewer community spaces and libraries fill many of our community’s needs. To quote Kylie ‘your disco needs you’ but your library needs you too!