Home | Specialty Focus | Bookworm clocks up 69 years as Liverpool Library member and 14,000 books
Dorothy Joyce McGillivary. Picture: Evan MacLean

Bookworm clocks up 69 years as Liverpool Library member and 14,000 books

Dorothy Joyce McGillivary has been a Liverpool Library member for a long time. Since 1952 Dorothy has amassed a huge 14,000 books borrowed and the 96-year old holds the title as the library's longest-serving member.  

Pretty much the minute she landed on these shores as a "ten pound pom" she made a beeline for what was then just a "a poky little place". First as a resident of East Hills migrant hostel then living in Rossmore and Casula, Dorothy would make the trip into Liverpool, at a time when a lot of the roads were still dirt, to borrow books.

"At that time it was a poky little one and you could only take two books at the time and you only had them for one week," Dorothy tells Aged Care Insite.

"But nobody said anything about the size. So, if I saw ones on a subject I wanted and they were somewhat large, well they were the ones I took quickly. I picked something that was going to last."

And in recent times, over a year when a pandemic has meant many social interactions have been put on hold, especially for the elderly, the library and books have been even more important.

A voracious reader, Dorothy reads most of the day, often until the small hours and only recently got through three books in one week.

History and non-fiction are her genre of choice.

"I don't know, it's something I've always had [my love of books]. I've always wanted to read things that have happened, not things that are just a figment of someone's imagination. I'm just interested in things that have happened, like history," she says.

And so the library has always been a special place for a woman with such an appetite for knowledge. And she too became special to the library and the community around it.

A recent trip to the library after a long COVID-imposed absence had staff jumping for joy.

"When we went to the library a couple of weeks ago, there would have been 20 staff all jumping up and down and hugging and kissing her, because they haven't seen her for 12 months, so that was very special," Dorothy's daughter Ann says.

Librarian Mary Bush has known Dorothy and her family for over 30 years, and for the last 14 years has been delivering books to Dorothy as the bookworm became less able to make it to the library in person.

"They are the most beautiful family in Liverpool," she says.

"She is a very well read woman, a very beautiful woman. All the people at the library know her. All of us at the library, a lot of us have been there for a long time. The ones that have been there, like me, over 30 years, they all know Dorothy from the days when she used to come in.

"And they all love Dorothy, because she always came in, respects them, talks to them about books, about this, about that."

For Mary, someone like Dorothy exemplifies everything a local library should be. It's a communal space rather than just a place to get books.

"Some borrow, some don't borrow, but we get to know you," she says.

"We get different people coming to the library; we get homeless people, we get people with mental issues, social issues, poverty. We get all sorts of people coming. We help a lot of people around the library. If we spot something, if somebody needs help, we refer and we ring up for them.

"Sometimes we have people just come through the door to be amongst people, sit at the library desk and pick up a magazine or a book and they find somebody they can talk to. It's not only about books, it's a social thing, because people think the library is the social place to go."

And for older members of the community a library can be a trip out, to be among the community, to meet people and have a chat.

"Libraries are more than books," Mary says. 

Dorothy agrees. At times the library was like a friend. 

"They say that I've read 14,000 books. That is only since computerisation. That's only taken up one third of the length of time that I've been in Australia. On my 90th birthday, they put on a surprise celebration for me," Dorothy says.

"It definitely does mean an awful lot to me. As I said, it was a poky thing on the corner, and then they moved down the road a little and put one level on it, which is quite accessible. And all of a sudden, they completed it to four levels in total. 

"And I used to make a beeline for the history, archaeology [sections], the ones that were of interest to me. I used to stagger home with two shopping bags full of library books. People would say, 'I suppose you're going to your second home.'"

Dorothy’s top five books of all time reveal a penchant for biographies on the power and politics of the royal family through the generations:

  1. Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion, by Lady Anne Somerset

2. Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, by Tracy Borman

3. Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince, by Lisa Hilton

4. Bomber Boys: Fighting Back 1940-1945, by Patrick Bishop

5. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir

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One comment

  1. Thanks to all the Staff at Liverpool Library. Mary Bush is the most wonderful Lady in the world!
    She has a very special place in my Mum Dorothy’s heart and life, plus all our family.
    I’ts been wonderful to read all the stories about my Mum.
    thanks again,
    Anne Starr

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