I’ve just come home from the State Library, where I pretended to be academic for an afternoon. What a fantastic place. I think I need to create a special Lady Writer Outfit, specifically for visiting the La Trobe reading room, or as I like to think of it, ‘the room in which I would like to make sweet love on every surface.’
Anyway. Moving right along.
In keeping with the ye olde theme, I had to palaver with some dusty old relics in order to get what I wanted. Firstly, I talked with a rather magnificent woman in the ‘Australiana’ section, who seemed genuinely excited by the content of my next article. (I’ve moved on from clocks thank Christ and am now onto Deco architecture, woo). She deemed it unnecessary that I even bother to look online, and did all that for me. And referred me to several unheard-of resources, including the Sampson McDonald Post Office Directory. I didn’t have the names of anyone to give her, but would have liked to, just to seize a sandy tome in both hands and whoof the dust off, Indiana Jones-style.
When I arrived, Thrilled by History Lady had gone home, and was replaced by Sour Old Bastard with Powerful Breath Guy. He was keen to help me out with the Manchester Unity Building, less so the Century Building. He tapped smartly across the reading room to show me one book, then abandoned me in the local history section in front of an extraordinary looking contraption.
With all the stupendous resources at their fingertips, the information I needed was stored on MICROFICHE. WHAT THE. The last time I went near one I was in the Ashburton Library, putting the finishing touches on Ashy Primary’s ‘dinosaurs made of coathangers’ display. I may have been about 6 years old, and thought the microfiche was a rather unexciting toy, like a Knitting Nancy after you’ve cocked up all your wool.
If anyone out there has forgotten/was not born before 1975, let me refresh. You take this smeared piece of acetate out of a folder. You then grab a handle at the front and pull it towards you. You place the acetate between two cunningly designed pieces of glass, then push it into place with a very satisfying roll and a thunk. You switch on the light, and voila, the wonders of technology can project what was once small, into something big and readable. Or does it?
You then seize the wacky handle at the front with one hand – I imagine it’s similar to what steering a zeppelin would be like – and grasp the focus knob with the other, as it veers out of focus every two seconds. There is a grimy yellow stripe across the screen to aid your confusion. The geniuses at the State Library had photographed 1000’s of tiny catalogue cards onto film, all hand-written, and in no discernable order. I got a bit hysterical at this stage. I was not the only one.
On either side of me were two elderly gents in tweed, knee-deep in yellowing papers and blunt pencils. These were the hep cats of the local history section. One seemed to find something extraordinarily funny on his screen, and snorted loudly and intermittently. The other kept leaping to his feet to impart some amazing historical fact to his mate, who politely ‘hmmmed’ and shuffled papers. They were as cute as a pair of tartan thermoses. I wanted to take them home and feed them McVite’s digestive biscuits spread with butter.
Anyway, so that was my day – I found some satisfyingly gory tales of murder in the Man U building, got to bustle about the reading room with Purpose (and a pen behind my ear), had a fond re-acquaintance with the technology of my youth, and even finished the day with a duck congee. All good.