Life of a rare books librarian: A passion for knowledge and fairy tales


Rare books librarian Mia Goodwin spends her day caring for irreplaceable texts and artefacts at Monash University. A small team of specialist, highly trained librarians look after the climate-controlled archive at Clayton Campus, which is off-limits to the public. “There are 700,000 books in the collection and that is only the catalogued items,” Mia says.

Mia explains her passion for fairy tales, which she is researching for her PhD in literature, in addition to her library work. Mia clarifies that there are two schools of thought around fairy tales; one says they are “time-old” and do not change, whereas the other acknowledges that they do evolve. “The literary fairy tale tradition looks at evidence in fairy tales and looks at the socio-historical context around them. I am very much in the literary fairy tales camp,” she says.

To a skilled librarian such as Mia, watermarks, the method of binding, the kind of paper and other tiny details can inform her about where a book was printed. Books in the collection range from a 15th Century bible, to new popular fiction titles such as Star Wars. One item particularly significant to the university is a first edition text of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man once owned by Sir John Monash.

Mia and a rare books colleague unpack historical Russian posters for a new exhibition. New acquisitions are thoroughly researched by the team, before being catalogued and added to the collection. “The fun thing about librarianship is that it is a fun and caring profession, I think,” Mia says. “There’s lots of knowledge sharing and a lot of support.”

Mia examines the intricate print of a book leaf on display. The library possesses very few individual pages from books, as it is more ethical to acquire whole books from other libraries and sellers, she says.

Mia loves to share her passion for books with university students as well as the public. “I’m on Instagram duty every Friday, so I tend to take a picture of a rare book and put it up for the library,” she says.