Melbourne's Caroline Chisholm Library passes ten year mark

Melbourne's Caroline Chisholm Library passes ten year mark

Michael C.C. Ryan

Archbishop Denis Hart, who celebrated Mass in St Francis' Church, Melbourne, on 8 August 2003, to mark the tenth anniversary of the Caroline Chisholm Library, paid tribute to its core of volunteers and offered them his congratulations for "saving the treasure." The little band of literates had kept the CCL alive, with its 26,000 books, in a building at 353 Lonsdale Street, just a George Pell torpedo punt from St Francis' Church.

Caroline Chisholm Library is a legatee of the Central Catholic Library. That treasury of books was established in 1924 under the wing of Archbishop Daniel Mannix. It prospered in the time of brief glory of the authors Chesterton and Belloc and Australia's world publisher, Frank Sheed. The CCL nourished thousands of readers at its site in Elizabeth Street where motor-cycle shops now stand. It had three telephone numbers and occupied two storeys.

Rescue operation

The busy times quietened.

In 1993 Archbishop Little's administrators decided the library should go. Its books would be dispersed.

Committee member Fred Bendeich remembered: "I saw a paragraph in The Age. Kate Cleary was calling a rescue operation, 'Save the Catholic library'. Nearly a hundred of us turned up at the meeting in St Francis' Hall. A committee was formed to negotiate with the Archdiocese regarding the Library's future. This body eventually resolved to set up its own Catholic library, independent of Dr Little's manager."

A new site was located and laboriously all weekend volunteers wheeled wagons of books along crowded pavements, carrying planks for shelves. "George the railwayman in his boiler suit stands out in my memory among that happy band," said Fred Bendeich.

Paul Mees, later director of the Public Transport Users Association, was one of the toilers. Anna Krohn, now Director of Catholic Adult Education, was another. Barbara Shea, now Dean of Mannix College in Monash University, was a third book bundler. Barbara addressed the St Francis congregation asking the old rescuers across for tea and cakes at unsinkable Caroline Chisholm Library.

The library's chaplain, Father Paul Chandler, concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop Hart. He helps develop Catholic intellectual life at his own Carmelite Library at Middle Park.

The code name in the city was inspired. In place of Central Catholic Library, Caroline Chisholm Library meant the "CCL" stamped in the front leaves of books did not need changing.

But the card index catalogue was fading along with the old century. John Daly, a lecturer in computer science, set up a computer system entire, with the help of volunteers, logging every book by title, author and subject. Currently, with the help of computer science students, he is putting the catalogue on-line.

Subscribers may take home four books at a time for a month; they can change them every day if they're speed readers. Membership costs $40 a year, $30 concession. People in the country, even as far afield as Sydney, receive their books from the CCL by post.

And for no charge at all, you can go in every day to 353 Lonsdale Street, clank in a lift to the third floor, commandeer one of the armchairs and read away - magazines from round the world being in particular demand.

The city CCL opens from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. A second branch of the Library now caters for readers in outer eastern Melbourne (at 510 Whitehorse Road, Mitcham, from Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm, and Sunday 10-12.) A third branch is about to open in Blessed Mary MacKillop parish at Keilor.

In tune with the 21st century a section is being opened of videos for loan: Mary MacKillop and Padre Pio for starters. Film fans can read books on the cinema by Peter Malone, MSC.

Treasures

But the CCL is not a "flavour of the month" establishment. It exists to house the perennial. Shelves groan with Aquinas and Augustine. Here rustle the honeyed pages of Merton and Newman, Pascal, Pasternak and Peguy, Solzhenitsyn, Tolkien and Underhill. The fiction of Greene and Waugh, Bruce Marshall and J. F. Powers awaits discovery by the younger generation (and perhaps their teachers) who have yet to know the treasure the universal church has been gathering down the centuries.

Dip into 55 books about St Paul - and another row of books by him and commentaries on them. Admire 25 Dantes in a row. Scan the verse of versatile Thomas More: one touch of Shakespeare half a century before the Bard.

An Icon painting school is another attraction at the city CCL. Classes are held on Thursdays from 10 to 12. No previous experience is necessary and participants can join at any time. Wednesdays bring lunch hour talks, (1-2pm) open to all.

Counting from the original Library that Father Hackett SJ directed, this venture of heart and head, code- named CCL, will be coming up eighty next May.

Volunteers run the whole show.

So if you find yourself caught up in the city mayhem some day wondering how to get off, escape into 3/358 Lonsdale Street, the Art Deco building on the corner of Elizabeth Street called Mitchell House, and soak up some of the atmosphere.

Inquire about the "Caroline" on 9670 1815; or log in to www.cclibrary.thechurch.com.au or email cclibrary@bigpond.com.

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