Write it down

The Handwritten Exhibition
National Library of Australia

Normally, when people think of libraries, it evokes a certain cathartic sensation and nostalgia for books – hard cover works with intricate bindings and fragile pages. Or, if you are less romantically-minded, libraries can stir up terrible feelings of guilt for that one book you borrowed from the university library that is still sitting in the corner of your bottom desk-drawer, collecting dust.

Whatever side you’re on, libraries are places of learning, and that statement couldn’t be truer for the National Library. As Canberrans, I feel we need to exploit this library for all the services it offers, and I’m not just talking about books. The National Library has been known to host many travelling exhibitions, and the best part of this is that most of them are free. Yes, I hear you, fellow students, anything free and including some form of thought is cause for great celebration.

Earlier this year, the National Library hosted a collection of written works from the Berlin State Library in Germany. These works were handwritten manuscripts, ranging from the medieval texts of the Venerable Bede, to more modern writers such as Karl Marx. These works were amazing; not only did I have a chance to see the true-to-personality handwriting of some of the most famous people in history, but I also learnt some valuable things about myself.

For instance, my handwriting will forever be neater than Ludwig von Beethoven’s. Then again, Napoleon Bonaparte’s handwriting puts me and many of my generation to shame. The personality of Florence Nightingale’s penmanship seemed neat and clean, and the patent for Alfred Nobel’s dynamite seemed rather explosive. I could be calmed by the very spidery tilt of Niccolò Machiavelli and hastened by the rash, briskness of a somewhat confused Georg Hegel. I was reminded that these people were just like me: Martin Luther sent letters, Michelangelo Buonarroti wrote receipts, and Otto von Guericke even wrote to the council. My handwriting may leave much to be desired, but it is much better than that of Galileo Galilei.

The National Library did not disappoint with their setup, including interactive, electronic tablets in which you could submit your own piece of writing history. In addition, there was a separate room for the manuscripts, including surround-sound, and an iPad that included musical extracts from all the displayed works.

In short, I believe the National Library is wonderful place to expand your learning. Even without the travelling exhibitions, there is usually something to see.

Next time you’re sitting at home and wondering if there’s something in Canberra to do, I suggest you check the National Library website; you never know what you might come across.