An abiding passion for books (part 4)

Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW)
Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW)

Our interview closes with a discussion about Paul’s current role. What are the emeritus curator’s responsibilities?

‘I offer advice and assistance, where required,’ he says, ‘or I’ll be involved in specific projects, if needed. I’ll be continuing my research, and publicising the library through talks and lectures, which I’ve done on the Queen Mary 2, and will be doing more of these. And if the library needs my help, I’ll be involved and help with acquisitions.’

How would he advise young people with similar interests and ambitions for a career like his?

‘A general principle holds: if you’re passionate about something, pursue it, and find someone to pay you to do it! In all the jobs I did at the Mitchell Library, I always changed them to reflect my passion – good people do this with their jobs. If you have a passion, develop it and try to pursue it. You’ll be a lot happier, even if you don’t earn lots of money.

‘I can’t believe I’ve had such a fabulous time. I never set out to be at the library for 40 years. It went so quickly! There was always something new happening.

‘If there’s something you haven’t done, and you’re offered the chance to do it, grab it and do it. If you want something, just ask. All that can happen is that someone will say “no”.

‘Networks are important too – it’s part of management-speak now, but it comes naturally to human beings. We’re gregarious, we like to help each other and help with our talents.

‘After 40 years, you know a lot of people. Ask people for their help, and they’re usually delighted to assist and share their knowledge. Word of mouth brings forth news, especially in collecting materials and finding items!’

Because of the work of Paul and his colleagues, the State Library remains the go-to place to ask a librarian’s help with obscure research, to study or write, to discover a new world or find an old newspaper, to see an exhibition or just to have a tea break. Its online catalogue’s a good research starting point. And the Mitchell Library Reading Room is still one of the loveliest places to research, write and read up on things, over 70 years after its opening.

Mitchell Reading Room (State Library of NSW)
Mitchell Reading Room (State Library of NSW)

Paul remembers seeing the State Library from the car, as a young child.

‘We were driving past and I noticed it. I somehow knew about it. This was when everyone knew it as the Mitchell Library. And I remember my parents telling me, “the building is not just the Mitchell Library, it’s the public library”.’

In such everyday conversations young imaginations open, and dreams of future life, passions and career take off.

[PS: I’ve worked as freelance copy editor on a number of jobs for the State Library of NSW. I edited texts Paul wrote for the Nelson Meers Foundation Heritage Collection exhibitions; and copy edited Paul’s catalogue, A grand obsession: the DS Mitchell story, for the exhibition he curated in 2007 (with Elizabeth Ellis a co-writer of the catalogue).]

Daisies. Photo: Theresa Willsteed ©2013.


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