Australian author Helen Garner. Photo: Mark ChewA roll call of prominent Australian authors has signed a petition protesting at changes to the State Library of NSW and in particular the historic Mitchell Library.
Among almost 200 people who put their names to the petition over the weekend are Phillip Adams, Robert Adamson, Murray Bail, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, James Bradley, Ivor Indyk, Linda Jaivin, David Malouf, David Marr, Alex Miller, Drusilla Modjeska, Andrew Riemer, Don Watson, Alexis Wright, and artists Imants Tillers and John Wolseley.
Their angry response follows the first steps in a $25 million ”revitalisation”, which is intended to open the library to more public usage while cutting costs and staff from 400 to 312, and has outraged many users and long-time staff.
At the centre of the changes is restoration of the Mitchell Reading Room to a public space with Wi-Fi but without books or librarians.
The petition was initiated by Malouf and publisher-author Evelyn Juers and is addressed to the state librarian, Alex Byrne.
It says: ”We’re deeply concerned by what is happening at the State Library of NSW – especially the conversion of the Mitchell Reading Room – and shocked that it has all gone ahead so quickly, without more public consultation.
”We realise that the chief librarian may be acting on orders, and on the advice of others whose deliberations have led to this proposal. But we have a right, as potential users of the library and as citizens concerned with our shared culture, and with the Mitchell as one of its most valuable and loved national institutions, to have our questions answered, and in public.
”These questions are: What exactly is proposed and on what grounds? Who determined those grounds? On whose decision and order is this proposal made? What/whose interest does it serve? We, the undersigned, call upon the chief librarian to convene a public meeting where our concerns can be aired and our questions answered.”
There has been no public response from Dr Byrne but he has offered to meet the petitioners.
He has previously said the aim is to open unused parts of the Mitchell, give researchers a quieter area to work in, and make the book collections more convenient by merging them in the library’s Macquarie wing.
However, as digitisation, removal of books and budget cuts affect many libraries, including the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library, public protest against damage to important cultural institutions is likely to build.
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