Randwick City Library

At a time when we can't meet at the library to stroll amongst the shelves or cosy up in a reading nook, Sydney Writers' Festival speaks to the people behind the books across NSW about their favourite reads, most treasured memories in a library and what surprises come with working in a library. This edition, we speak to Barbara Todes, Manager of Randwick City Library.

What do you love most about libraries? 

Hard to choose one thing. I love everything about our library and libraries in general, but – outside COVID – I love the fact that it is a community space where everyone is welcome and that the service and resources we offer are free. Plus, no more fines.

What purpose do you feel the library serves in your community? 

It is a community hub, a meeting place and place of social interaction. It serves both the information and recreational needs of the community – we have books, CDs, DVDs, magazines and newspapers in English and other languages, in hardcopy and digital formats, as well as toys and games. We have something for everyone at each of their life stages, and the homebound due to illness or injury can also access our material from the Home Library Service.

As a librarian, what do you get asked about most? 

I don’t work on the desk, but I think that those who do get a lot of questions on how to use the printer or help with the PCs, which are free of charge in the library. The more in-depth reference questions are often related to more specialist local history these days.

I love the fact that it is a community space where everyone is welcome and that the service and resources we offer are free. Plus, no more fines.

What is your favourite book from the last year?

Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, the well-deserving joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, together with Margaret Atwood – another favourite. I was engaged by the novel’s depiction of the history of the black British experience through the lives of the 12, mostly black British women characters. I found her innovative style and the way she played with form and structure, and tied the stories together, both exciting and satisfying.

What book has made the greatest impact on you?  

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, written in 1948, had a searing impact when I first read it aged 12 years. It is a beautifully written and powerful protest novel about the social system in South Africa at the time, where breakdown of the tribal system, urbanisation, poverty, crime and fear affected both black and white, and later gave rise to apartheid. I still have it on my shelf.

What children’s or YA book do you think adults should borrow?

Anything by Jacqueline Wilson, she writes the most amazing true-to-life books for children and youth.

What is the most surprising thing about your job?

How little people know how much libraries have changed and what we can now offer, especially online. People pay for eAudiobooks, not realising the wealth of eBooks and eAudiobooks that they can access online via their public library.

Advice on getting through lockdown? 

Everyone’s circumstances and mindsets are different, so just do your personal best to get through it. Reach out to friends and colleagues and try to enjoy the small moments and slower pace. Reading, listening to the radio/podcasts, watching movies and TV series, eating and walking are a given.

How little people know how much libraries have changed and what we can now offer, especially online.