Building a Library from Scratch

SLQ Staff member David McMahon shares his recent experience developing the Samford community library.

SLQ staff member David McMahon

A few days before Christmas in 2014 I spied a tiny notice in our local paper which read ‘’Wanted-volunteers for a community library’’. I had recently completed my Diploma in library science and was working casually at the State Library of Queensland so I had a bit of time up my sleeve.

Groucho Marx wittily remarked that he didn’t care to belong to any club that would have him as a member and I was roughly of the same mind. Age however, a blaggard of the lowest order, likes to assert its own moral and ethical tyrannies and was hounding me to give something back to the community.

Within a very short space of time I had met the people who had taken it upon themselves to get a community library up and running. There were some teacher librarians, an artist, a composer and poet, another who taught business, an ABC reporter and me. Being the only male in the group I wondered why it was that it was women who often got these community things going but I’ll save that for another blog.

First Meeting

Like a schoolboy sitting through seemingly pointless classes about algebra, so I sat through the sections on meetings in my Diploma. Little did I know that the polite forms of torture inflicted upon our student brains in the shape of the finer points of an agenda, or the importance of keeping minutes was soon to be deployed with gusto on my new and unwitting partners in crime. The meeting went fairly smoothly and after a bit of argy bargy we nutted out a rough plan and the bolts sprang into action.

Hard Yards for the Church Mice

In a library, getting down to brass tacks invariably involves collecting, sorting, classifying, repairing, preserving, weeding and correctly storing books and lots of them. Other items come into play but the sheer joy of being custodians of the printed word is a booklovers aphrodisiac.

Having worked in the Collection Access department at SLQ I gained firsthand knowledge of how these things are done and why (never remove a book from the shelf by pulling from the top of the spine!). Why the Dewey Decimal system was crucial in establishing our credibility was another small battle that had to be fought. I was able to state my case with confidence in a well-structured meeting with a defined agenda, with a nominated chair which was duly noted by the person taking the minutes.

When I mentioned our endeavour to my colleagues at SLQ I was suddenly and delightfully inundated with generous donations of books from people’s private collections and donations of furniture from the Edge and Collection Access for which we were most grateful. Before long and with a little bit of social media footsie we had gathered close to 30,000 items.

Money, Money, Money

We had some people on board versed in the dark arts of community funding grants and I was dispatched to hustle funding through things like sausage sizzles and church fairs as even the smell of an oily rag was beyond our financial remit. Riding to our financial rescue was the Moreton Bay Regional Council which stumped up with a tidy sum for our community collective of which our library is a part.

I’m now deeply involved with a bunch of people who were once strangers but are now friends. Getting involved with your local community is definitely worth it as there is so much to learn from your fellow human beings and about yourself.

So sorry Groucho, but the lure of the community library has me hooked.

David McMahon

Library Technician, Information Services