‘I just love books!’ – Q&A with street library owner Mary Argall
A proud part of Canberra’s South, Mary Argall’s street library is full of wonder and creative stories available to the public.
Located on Marconi Crescent in Kambah, the library is only small, hidden behind some trees in Mary’s front yard, which is right next to a yellow bus stop.
A lively street, Marconi Crescent is one of the main streets in Kambah and one that gains a lot of traction for the library.
The library caters for everyone, with the top shelf being adults books, and the bottom shelf dedicated to kids and young adults.
Mary is a gracious mother, kind hearted volunteer with Lifeline’s bookshop and an avid lover of books. The library, which is separate from her work with Lifeline, is an amalgamation of an idea that followed her across the country. It’s also one that helps contribute to the bookshop.
As she has a strong passion for books, she surrounds herself with them as much as possible.
Q. What made you want to open up a street library?
A. In 2015 and 2017 we did a lot of travelling around Australia, and we visited a lot of street libraries and a lot of second hand book shops. I became aware of street libraries and i just wanted one!
Q. Do you think it’s built a sense of community?
A. I don’t know about that. It’s there for people, they feel happy to have it and they enjoy having it there. But whether it gives them a sense of community i’m not sure. It gives you a very good feeling. A good sense of altruism. We find books in their quite often that we enjoy reading. I like it when people happen to catch us and say ”wow this street library is so wonderful, thank you for having it”.
Q. Is the library a sustainable way of donation, rather than throwing them away or donating to second hand stores?
A. It’s certainly better than throwing books away, we don’t want to do that unless they’re really ratty. I like the idea of sharing books by putting them in the street library. The street library is only very small though and it does tend to get a bit static at times. So i’m constantly looking at it, taking books out, i’ve got a big box of books in the shed and I circulate them around. If they don’t go then I will donate them to Lifeline or take them to other street libraries. I move them around a bit. I guess if you’re going to have a street library you have to be prepared to do a bit of work.
Q. Would you say it’s better to donate to a street library over a second hand store?
A. If they’re in thrift shops and they’re really ratty they recycle them. My son assures me that it is very good for the environment to recycle old books and they are just paper, so it’s perfectly okay. From travelling around Australia, I think you can give books a bit of a longer life by donating them to street libraries. If an organisation is trying to sell a book it needs to be of a higher quality, whereas if you put it in a street library it might not need to be as high a quality, particularly for things like board books and things like that in a street library that would not show up in a shop. In Canberra, I find, people are less likely to take in ratty books.
Q. Would you ever consider expanding the library and making it bigger?
A. It’s a very small library, but no. We built it from recycled stuff pretty much. Unless we had to rebuild and make a bigger one. If it died from the weather and we had to rebuild, I would consider it but a small collection of books is good!
Q. What would you say to people looking to build a street library?
A. I say go for it! It’s a fantastic thing, and it is fun to wander down to look in your library and go ‘oh there’s a book I haven’t read’ and ‘oh I haven’t seen that’ so that’s really good. Practically, if you’re going to build that yourself (we built ours with a chest of drawers) and you’re going to buy something from Revolve, make sure it has a door, because it’s really hard to make a drawer. That’s a silly thing but it’s very handy. But I think it’s a fun thing to do, it’s really nice to send books out there and send them into the world, so yeah!
Q. When did you decide to open the library back up again after COVID? Because it can be a tricky thing to decide when to do it.
A. I didn’t want to shut it at all, but when I found out COVID was transmittable on paper and it lasted up to two weeks on paper and the libraries were closed, a lot of street libraries stayed open, but I thought ‘wouldn’t it be awful if someone caught COVID through my library’. So that’s why I closed it and put everything in the shed. I guess I opened it again when it was clear that there wasn’t any community transmission in Canberra and when the average person didn’t have COVID. I thought ‘okay, it’s probably safe now’.
Q. How can people get involved with Lifeline and street libraries?
A. Lifeline Canberra is always looking for volunteers, so I would visit the Lifeline Canberra website (link). They look for volunteers in the bookshop and I used to volunteer in the warehouse, and I think they’re still looking for volunteers there, so if you want to volunteer them, you can go to their website. With the street libraries, there is the Street Libraries of Australia web page, so Google that (link). They sell kits of libraries as well, so you can buy a wooden kit, or you can do it like we did and built it yourself. Then you can get the plaque and put it on your library, and there’s a number so you can register your number on the Street Libraries of Australia website.