Time to ‘fess up’: how long is it since you have been inside the National Library of Australia? Have you ever been inside the National Library?
From the outside, in its prime position by Lake Burley Griffin, the National Library building is as striking in its angularity as its vault-like air. Our national collection of words, sealed away in a rarefied space, it is no wonder so many of us are a little timid about visiting, especially when we are not even sure if we are allowed in.
In an effort to dispel this impression and encourage more people to visit, the National Library of Australia (NLA) has launched ‘Take a Look’, a new installation exploring Australian stories through the library’s collections.
Take a Look is inviting everyone to embrace the library and peak inside its new outdoor installation, located in front of the main entrance.
Featuring three giant letters, ‘NLA’, the installation sits on the podium in front of the National Library. Standing at 2.4 metres, each letter reveals significant moments in Australia’s history, with an item inside that brings these stories to life.
To highlight the National Library’s collection, the installation spans themes of sport, gender equality and the shaping of one of Canberra’s most distinctive landmarks: Lake Burley Griffin.
The letters feature the work of photographers Tim Webster, Leigh Henningham, Loui Seselja and Paddy Briggs, as well as author and illustrator Michael Salmon.
Hidden within each letter is a visual surprise linked to the library’s collections. ‘N’ is for a nation of sport and music lovers; ‘L’ is for a ‘living memorial’; and ‘A’ is for an abundance of water.
The front of the letters, as you approach the library, talk about the diversity of our community, contemporary collecting, and how we gathered in times before COVID-19 and how we would like to gather again. The back of the letters speak to different aspects of our documentary heritage collecting, highlighting sheet music, maps and manuscripts.
NLA director, community engagement, Kathryn Favelle, says the library is well aware of how imposing its building is to people who have never been inside.
“With such a great big empty podium to cross before you even walk in the door, we understand that people may not have been comfortable even approaching,” she says.
“We received funding as part of an Australian Government COVID-19 relief package, directly aligned to encourage visitors to come back to the library. This funding gave us a chance to dream, and come up with a way to invite people in.”
Kathryn says the installation is purposely sited outdoors.
“We want people to come up the stairs,” she says. “We want people to climb over it, sit on it, take a photo and press the buttons and look inside.”
For those who have not been to visit the library for a while, the installation will highlight the breadth of the NLA collection.
“Hopefully people will feel they can walk in, visit the Treasures Gallery, go to the coffee shop, and come into the main reading room,” says Kathryn.
“Or even sign up for a library card, which is basically your ticket to using all of our resources, either in person or online.”
The library holds the greatest collection of material relating to Australia and Australian people in the world.
“Despite the impression, the NLA is a treasure trove of stories about us,” says Kathryn. “Not everything is in books – we have recorded oral histories, music, manuscripts, pictures, newspapers and even archived websites.
“We are most definitely open to the public, welcoming visitors every day. Come and visit.”
For more information, visit National Library of Australia.