Absence of proof is not proof of absence.
When I first started this blog, as a response to starting my Librarian studies, my mind traveled to the library moments that were defining to my love of all things library. In my first post Hatching, I discussed a childhood experience of volunteering at a local sub-branch of Marrickville library called “The Warren”. I used to spend many afternoons there, after school, as both my parents worked late and I had no-one to answer to. My choice as a child was to go to the library until it closed. After writing that initial post, spurred by an early memory, I decided to investigate further and find out what ever happened to this sub-branch of Marrickville library. Who to ask was easy “Ask a Librarian”. I looked up Marrickville Library and on their website I came across a History Services link. After trawling through the history archives online, I realised my search was futile as there appeared to be no mention of the sub-branch called “The Warren” anywhere. I tried their search with “Warren”, “sub-branch” and other configurations but proved unsuccessful. Was this a figment of my imagination? I am sure this is not a made-up memory. Is this how I imagined my ideal childhood, spent at the library amongst books, every afternoon and sometimes on Saturday mornings? I needed to further my investigations so I sent an email to Marrickville Library, explaining I was trying to locate some historical information, based on a childhood memory, of a sub-branch that I frequented? Could they help me with information, photos, details of the branch etc…. Below is the response I received.
“Thank you for your enquiry regarding ‘The Warren Library’. Surprisingly, there is very little information on this branch and its history.
The Warren Library was indeed a small children’s library and was open each afternoon for several hours. In one of our books published by our previous historian, there is a small mention of the dates that the branch was open, from September 25, 1965 and was then subsequently closed in 1985 (no exact date given). It also mentioned a couple other smaller branches closed in the same year, but there is no mention as to why.
Unfortunately, there was no other information available in any of our local history files or local history collection.
Thank you again for your enquiry, alas that we could not find more information for you.
Jo Stacey Acting Local Studies Officer | Marrickville Library & History Services
Marrickville Council I PO Box 79 Marrickville NSW 1475 I www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au
P 02 9335 2167 | F 02 9596 2829 | E firstname.lastname@example.org“
Now, in considering this information, my topic broadens and I start musing on concepts of ‘Absence’ and the connection to storying in Hi”story”. Why was this information on this branch deemed not important enough to be archived? How are such decisions made? What is the criteria in place and what values are in operation in making decisions to enable ‘absence’ at a later point in time? In essence, how do we decide what is important historically and what perspectives end up getting lost, made absent and hence inaccessible. How is value determined of historical existence and what is missing from our narratives as time travels?
Many other ideas are inter-related of course. For instance, Ruby Langford Ginibi, argued strongly years ago about her book “Don’t take you love to town” needing to be included as an historical text in the History curriculum of NSW. Being an autobiography, it is reasoned that it is a primary source of her account as dispossession and displacement in the history of Australia and our post-colonial past. It has not been accepted as an historical text, and the question applies here too, why not? Why is it not perceived or valued as a primary source? An account exploring these ideas is captured by Carole Ferrier.
As another extension of the idea, a few years back I read “The Orchard” by Drusilla Modjeska and within this book I came across a passage beautifully written that linked erasure of female identity to erasure of female name. The premise is, if naming throughout time, in the western tradition, is based on the women receiving the fathers surname on birth, then the maternal link to heritage is broken. Furthermore, if a woman then takes the husbands surname upon marriage, then there is a further break with history of women. Hence, ‘absence’ of women through “his”tory.
‘Absence’ is a powerful concept when we consider how our storying of existence takes shape.