150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Library Travels with my Father

By Julianne Pask

The first time I remember going to “the big library in town” I had trouble deciding between “The Illustrated History of Fashion through the Ages” and Das Kapital, (in translation of course). I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a fashion designer or a revolutionary. The fashion book was Reference Only and Marx proved too difficult after a few paragraphs – so I ended up taking home a Trixie Belden mystery. She was all the rage in the 70’s; but doesn’t seem to have stood the test of time very well.

And I haven’t become either of those lofty ideals. But of course it doesn’t matter. What mattered at the time was the excitement of the “big library.” It was very dark and lit with only the softest of lamps. It seemed so large and antiquated that it could house the secrets of the ages. All the furniture was hand crafted from solid wood and probably resides in only the best of antique dealers’ shops today.

And it was such a contrast from the Woolston Community library we usually frequented. That was just a little room at the front of the building. Like all adults who return to childhood haunts, I’ve returned there since and wondered how such an ordinary room could have seemed so charming once upon a time.

But of course the charm was not the room, but the books. Compared to the glossy computer generated graphic art of today, the books of yesteryear are dull cousins, but again it was not the packaging, but the content, that mattered.

PhotoTo remember the library is to conjure memories of my father. It was he who most enthusiastically encouraged my library habit. Not that my mother was discouraging, she loved books too, but reading was Dad’s most passionate endeavour.

He was born into the London Blitz. Like many inner city children, he and his brother were removed to the country for their safety. And like many other evacuees he found it to be a mixed blessing.

When he decided, at 15 years old, he wanted to emigrate – alone – to a NZ high country station, the social worker assigned to his case remarked in her report that all his pocket money was spent on books. This habit continued once he was safely ensconced in the back blocks of Waiau and was fortunately passed onto me.

Despite his own lack of education - due to the disruption of the war - he read as much as any university student. The longest of labouring days still ended with a book and retirement found him working as President of the same Woolston Community library that we visited so frequently in my childhood.

At nearly 50, I have a literature degree, I have worked as a teacher of literature and now I am a learning advisor for the library. Just before my father died I asked him to write in my favourite fairy tale book. He’d given it to me, but never dedicated it. He wrote: To Julianne, Love from Dad.

He was a man of few words. Lucky for me he shared the words of others so readily. A gift for a lifetime.

It’s true that the sins of the fathers are visited down the generations; but the passions are also.


Library travels with my Father