Amongst the dusty books and volatile tape dispensers that seem to have a mind of their own, there is more than meets the eye at the UQ Alumni Friends Bookhouse. At the heart of the not-for-profit organisation is the diverse and generous community of volunteers, who not only work tirelessly towards every Fair, but are also willing to share their wisdom and life experiences with me. Despite my time there coming to a close, I can easily say that my stay was beyond the cliché ‘short and sweet’.
My love for books in general started from a very early age. Every evening would consist of my parents reading Disney fairy-tales or Little Golden books to me. My mother recalls how stubborn I was when it came to ‘story time’ before bed. “I’d skip pages in the story because I was tired, and thought I could get away with it,” She said. “But you’d notice before I could even start reading, and make me go back to the beginning.”
Apparently I also had an affinity for writing my own narratives as well as reading the old ones and constantly altering them. My appreciation for books followed me into adulthood, and volunteering at the Bookhouse seemed like a natural progression for me.
With the opportunity for everyone to offer their talents in a way that benefits the organisation, I was granted the privilege of filming a short promotional video for this year’s Rare Book Auction. However, it was important for me to include a sense of the personality that this unique environment offered. From the screech of the hinges holding the attic door together, to the aged and discoloured walls of what used to be a family home, this beguiling old Queenslander has many stories to tell, and I was lucky enough to convey one of them.
Producing the video gave me the chance to delve into the most valuable items that the Rare Book Auction has to offer. The process was beyond distracting as I tried to capture the essence of the books, while restraining myself from getting lost in their intricate bindings. It was important for me to include the atmosphere of what it was like in the attics rather than just plainly photographing a catalogue of books. Despite being worried about the personality translating in the photographs and clips, I was pleasantly surprised that the camera had picked up the finest of details. Some were bound in lavish marble textures that withstood the test of time, whereas other books heralded their age, showing they were much loved in their previous life.
I very quickly recognised that the volunteers were at the heart and soul of this organisation. The countless hours they put in every week are a testament to the success of every Book Fair. This tight-knit community includes people from all walks of life. One of my favourite parts about every work day is the morning tea at 10:30am. That half hour window allows me to converse with someone different every week and gain insight into their life experiences. I know I am not just speaking for myself when I say that morning tea is always a highlight of the day.
With my departure edging closer, I am doing my best to make the most of it. At the end of May, I’m travelling to London to live and work for a couple of years. Volunteering at UQ’s Alumni Friends is an experience that I will not forget. Not only have I gained more confidence and bettered my communications skills, but I’ve also met an incredible group of people who I will keep in contact with in the future. There’s no doubt that when life brings me back to Brisbane, I’ll be sure to revisit the Bookhouse.
Until then, I’m going to miss the 10:30am morning teas.
Caitlin Storer, Bookhouse Volunteer and recent Bachelor of Mass Communication Graduate, living in Brisbane…soon to be London.