More than Meets the Eye: History Beyond the Bookshelves

Throughout this semester, we have been discovering the many ways in which local histories are informed and constructed, something that is often impacted by varied contextual, socio-cultural and even resource-driven factors. When thinking about the intricacies involved in such processes, libraries are often perceived as the places history is written within. But, as I have since discovered, this public institution plays an integral and multi-faceted role, preserving, collecting and even writing history itself.
This, I found especially pertinent when researching and liaising with the Local Studies Centre at Waverley Library. When delving into the department’s function and work, one would be mistaken to think it is simply a place where they store old books, or where past issues of the ‘Southern Courier’ are kept. In reality, the Local Studies Centre is where resident Local Historian, Ingrid, writes and preserves the history of Waverley and its surrounding suburbs (such as Bondi, Clovelly and Bronte), whilst also making such information and resources available to those community members interested in researching their own histories. The collection and archiving of sources, however, is but one aspect of history-making that involves the library. The Local Studies Centre is also a major and dynamic contributor to local historical research and conservation, helming such projects as the investigation into and preservation of the Clovelly Cemetery and the establishment of the celebratory centenary exhibition of the Bondi Beach Lifeguards.
From this we see an ever dynamic and multitudinous actor in public history emerge. Libraries such as Waverley play both a “secondary” role in preserving, archiving, categorising and making publicly accessible historical resources, and a “primary” role by writing history themselves. This role is both highly unique and intriguing and I am excited to learn how the Local Studies Centre juggles its preservationist role with its more active history writing initiatives.
Upon meeting with Ingrid and subsequently discussing potential areas in which I may be able to assist the library, it was revealed that the Local Studies Centre requires assistance on two fronts; the transcribing and digitisation of its vast collection of oral histories, and the creation of an archive which digitises artefacts, reports and manifests collected from local heritage listed homes currently held by the Heritage Planning department of the Waverley Council Chambers. Again, here we see many different roles and responsibilities in play. Hopefully, through further discussion and collaboration with the Local Studies Centre, a greater understanding of the library’s intricate relationship with historiography shall be discovered.