An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Campus Life: Part 2 - The Matheson Library

Time for part two on my view of university life and its infrastructure. A time for another piece of the big campus jigsaw to fall into place. Another segment taken from the university mandarin. A patch of fabric from the college quilt. A snapshot from the album. A biscuit from the biscuit barrel ... you get the idea.

So following on from Part 1 - The Kopi Haus, I am switching my discerning gaze squarely onto the nearby library. Officially known as:

The Matheson Library

Flush square with the main gate, with 3,344 square metres of floor space jam packed inside, there is a big square building called the Matheson Library. Inside and out is like a journey into the recent past. Straight pronounced lines, sharp detailed corners, bold vivid frescoes, shit brown highlights, it is mini time warp back to the grand architectural age of the 70's. To be precise 1977 was when it opened (one year off being the best year of that century).

Opening times are a thing to behold. Not only can you go there during the week to catch up on all kinds of learned activities, but occasionally - when they feel like it - is open on weekends as well - amazing. During the terms students midweek can burn the midnight oil, spending their precious time in pursuit of knowledge all the way to 10pm, instead of watching EMTV in the dorm common rooms. Note: at non term time you are booted out at 4pm sharp.

Like historians with ancient scrolls, the students must be careful not to handle the available textbooks too roughly or pity the poor future students. Money, alas, for new texts - and carpet, and repairing holes in the roof, and fuel for the generator - is not immediately forthcoming, so willing learners must make do with the best of what's available. Anyone for a scuffed up copy of Microcomputer Fundamentals: Where to start soldering (3rd edition: 1984)?

Technology has been advancing even into this backwater. New computers now shine like a beacon. Once the front doors are breached just progress towards their light and punch in your request and hope there will be an answer. A search for "Tolstoy" will avail you with zero results, a cursory glance to the nearby shelves of fiction will find the three volume War and Peace set.

The computer system on the whole is very good, if at times frightingly supernatural. Present a book to checkout, give them your library card, watch them tap away, barcode scan away and security strip reset away and then get asked, "why haven't you returned Electromagnetic and Induction Principals?". WTF? How did they know I nicked that book from Tighes Hill TAFE in 1995? Very spooky (this really did happen BTW).

Going on a grand tour of the place, we enter through the large glass doors, we glide over the top of the vomit coloured carpet (chic 70's styling again) and come to a cross roads. Straight ahead for the dazzling computers and fiction, left to the old reference section and checkout or right to the student work area and the Audio Visual department (seeing as this dept is a separate entity I will leave this to another day). We don't take any of these options and instead aim for the lovely concrete stairs which are straight and slightly to the right. Once on the second floor, the real fun begins, wander off to the PNG rare books section with not so many rare books (already noticed elsewhere), head off to the PNG collection or check out the large general reference behind.

It is in the large general reference where old Matheson can proudly boast and breast beat. Apparently this is the largest collection of books in PNG, a total over 100,000. After seeing most of its competition around this country, with the notable exception of the UPNG library, I would be hard pressed to disagree - we won't even go near public libraries, bless their dying soul.

So there you have it, she may be old, but the place at least has the decency to have old books as well. I may ridicule but I must say that I'm not much for these brand new upstart libraries with their fancy architecture and brand new shelving, lined with ancient books. Give me a library that matches its collection any day - even if it does look like flares meet Stalin.