I studied for my Graduate Diploma in Librarianship in 1986 at the old Melbourne College of Advanced education, which has now been absorbed into the University of Melbourne, but which then was a teacher training college. There was a course for teacher librarians but also a stream for general librarians. Our little group of a dozen or so were the only ones in the whole college who weren’t teachers. It was a great course and I met some great people, some of whom are still friends almost 30 years later.
I had a bit of trouble landing a library job after graduating and ended up applying for a temp job in the Department of Social Security for a few months. There was some sort of legislative change and they assembled an oddball bunch of people on an otherwise abandoned floor of the old Commonwealth Centre in Melbourne. It was to be demolished shortly and was mostly empty, but I remember there was still a tea lady who dispensed appalling tea (10c a cup) or coffee (12c) from the trolley she wheeled around. You knew she was coming by the sound of rattling cups. The cafeteria was still open up on the top floor too, although the food was as dreadful as the tea.
I expected to turn up and be put to work doing basic clerical stuff but there must have been some sort of administrative error because I found myself appointed a team leader on the very first day with four staff even though I clearly had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. We muddled through somehow and towards the end of the project someone told me that the Department had a library upstairs and they needed someone to help out.
My first library job!
It turns out that the sole librarian had been on three months long service leave and they had just locked the door and ignored it, but the librarian was due back soon so I was offered two weeks work to get it tidied up ready for her return.
I almost wish they hadn’t been able to find the keys to open the door. For three months people had been returning their loans through the returns slot so there was a huge pile of books and journals and government reports behind the door, mixed in with three months worth of unopened mail and inter library loan requests.
I think I spent the first few days organising the mountainous backlog into smaller mountains according to category and then proceeded to work my way through the mess. Nothing in my Diploma had prepared me for any of this. I never figured out the manual loans system, but I worked out that the journals just seemed to circulate via distrubution slips taped to the covers so I forwarded them all to the next person on the list just to get rid of them.
It was a relief when the tea lady appeared. I even had a retro orange vinyl three piece lounge suite that must have dated from when the building opened. I’d sit there sometimes and flick through magazines while having a cup of tea
Things were looking a little brighter by the second week until Tuesday, just after lunchtime, when a man appeared with a delivery of 400 boxes and 40 rolls of packing tape. I went up the corridor to ask what that was about and the manager casually mentioned that the library was being moved at the end of the week to the new building up the road so could I have the entire library packed up by Thursday night? They’d be coming to collect the shelving on Friday. Cripes!
Later that afternoon some burly blokes arrived and wheeled out my lounge suite.
I started trying to pack everything up methodically but by Thursday I was panicking and roped in some staff from down the hall to help out and people were tossing random piles of books and journals into random boxes. It was a disaster but the place was all packed up by Thursday night. The new librarian was meant to start the following Monday in the new library up the road and they decided I could stay on for an extra week to help her unpack the boxes.
So the next Monday I turned up at the 20th floor of 150 Lonsdale Street and met the librarian. I think her name was Janice. The first thing I noticed when we opened the doors to the new library was my three piece lounge suite, now completely reupholstered in “Social Security Blue”. It looked quite nice. There were also lots of empty shelves and those 400 boxes.
We spent that week unpacking all those boxes and arranging everything on the shelves and it was looking pretty good towards the end of the week except that mysteriously we seemed not to have quite enough shelving. That’s when Janice noticed that the photocopy of the shelving plan had been accidentally folded down the middle eliminating a couple of rows of shelving. Oops.
Thankfully I’d been offered another temp job so I didn’t have to worry about staying to help Janice sort out that mess. I was offered 2 weeks work, 4 days a week, working the periodicals desk at Swinburne Institute of Technology. That was in 1987. It’s now called Swinburne University of Technology and I’m still there.