ASSOCIATES (2010, November, v. 17, no. 2)


Arid Zone Research (AZRI) Library

Margaret Ellis

The library I work in is interesting for a variety of reasons from our collections to our environs. It is a Government Library in Central Australia, Northern Territory (NT), and there are two staff members, the Library Manager and myself (Library Technician). The outworking of this means that our tasks cross over and we can cover for each other when the other is away due to sickness or holidays.

The AZRI Library collection consists of various subjects and disciplines as we service two distinct departments with researchers, scientists and field staff. The building where the library is situated is called Arid Zone Research Institute. The Department I work for is Primary Industry which focuses on: Pastoral Production, Plant Industries, Biosecurity, Minerals and Energy and Fisheries (in Darwin, NT). The other department we service focuses on Heritage, Environment Protection, Parks and Wildlife and Natural Resources

We have information regarding breeding cattle, the life cycle of ants and other creatures, sustainable plants, conservation, water and various historic monographs and items in our reading room. One of these items is a fairly large mincer which was used many years ago to mince the livers of diseased cattle ready for testing.

There is never a dull moment and although we don’t have many external visitors our clients are predominately either in remote locations or working in the field for long periods.

We receive most of our requests via emails and phone calls. We do have a lolly jar stocked up to entice visitors and researchers to linger longer and chat or browse. We also host several morning teas a year including:

Although my tasks are similar to all libraries worldwide I find I am always interested in both the material I handle, the requests that the researchers make and the projects I undertake. I enjoy the hunt for items that our clients have difficulty in locating.

As well as the above I enjoy working on a property which is outside of Alice Springs as there is a fairly scenic drive to work. AZRI Library is located in a rural setting and this makes my working life a little different to my colleagues working in city libraries. We have farm staff whose tasks are to care for: date palms, citrus trees, cows, bulls, horses and other features and projects.

A walk at lunchtime is never boring as sometimes along the path to the farm one might be sharing the road with a herd of cows either crossing to eat some feed on the other side or ambling along slowly towards possible freedom. Also when it’s time for the poddies (unbranded calves) to be rounded up they can get skittish if anyone should get close to their yards. The red dust is stirred up like at a rodeo as they try to run away from the intruder.

During a recent grasshopper plague any folk brave enough to walk outside were met by “creatures” jumping over the paths and car park area and they had the annoying habit of attaching themselves to clothing and end up jumping around inside the offices!

During the hot weather other unwelcome visitors slither into our building from time to time and the local snake catcher is called. We do try to determine beforehand if it is a legless lizard or a snake!

A few months ago, during a particularly wet week (unusual for up here) a diversion was that the staff with small cars had to park in the nearby Department’s car park and complete their journey to work by 4×4’s as the usual dip in the road had turned into a sizable creek. The late comers were not as lucky – their only alternative was to park and wade across!

Another aspect of working out of town is that a “pie van” comes daily to our office selling drink, food and newspapers. Visitors studying quietly are amused at the announcement and the mad dash to the front of the building.

Periodically, all staff have an opportunity to volunteer for helping out at the general open day on the property. This year it was combined with the Desert Knowledge Precinct across the paddock. The day was quite successful with a bus service running from one precinct to the other with various activities for folk to take part in. I volunteered in our Primary Industry section and assisted the visitors in participating in the competitions. One was to guess the combined weight of two steers and the other was to name each breed of cattle. I shared the desk with one of the managers visiting from Darwin and it was quite amusing to watch her help the novices answer the questions.

Next month our Department is also involved in our local regional show as we have a stand where activities from our various sections are showcased. Again, we can volunteer to assist and there is usually a lot of interest from the public. Our cattle usually win prizes and these are proudly displayed. Free “billy tea” (tea brewed on a campfire) can be consumed along with freshly cooked damper, or locally grown dates while the children dig for “gold or gems” in the sandpit. There are competitions as well, one to name the grasses on display, as well as, others including guessing your weight in gold. There is staff available to discuss the local mining activities and other topics along with fact sheets.

Finally another interesting aspect of working at my library is that we are able to share in the fresh produce either grown on the farm or donated by local producers. It is a real treat to take home asparagus, oranges, mandarins, cauliflowers, cabbages, etc. and there is usually a quick rush to the foyer when an email announcing the latest free produce is sent.