The Mapleton Community Library looks quiet from the street but behind closed doors it is a hive of activity, humour and goodwill. Nita Lester has been gently nurturing the book-filled building for the past five years and Victoria McGuin joined her to talk literature, life and learning.
by Victoria McGuin
Nita Lester and her husband Phillip moved to Mapleton six years ago after a long time out west and time in Brisbane. “We bought our land back in the ‘90s and eventually built on it. We have 30 acres with a dam, bubbling brooks and amazing plants.
“They don’t need any care, you just can’t go past them. Oranges, purples, undertones of white – they’re a moving carnival of blossoms and colours.”
Plants are a passion for Sydney-born Nita who trained as a botanist. “When I was a kid we’d go to the ocean with crashing waves which my brother would love, but I was scared, so I would collect the seaweed and take it home to press between books. I’ve loved pressing flowers and plants ever since.”
Nita’s PhD was in Botany and Tropical Water Lilies. “I like to learn what stories plants tell,” and she followed this with a PhD in education. “I was out west for 25 years, so I needed something to do!”
These days, Nita is President of the Queensland Botanical Society and sits on the board for the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Myall Park Botanic Gardens. Her experience is put to good use at Mapleton Library with Nita holding drawing and watercolour classes on flora and fauna.
“We pick different plant families and structures of plants, have a dialogue, and everyone learns terms along the way. Engaging students with what’s in their own gardens increases learning”.
“Our adult art group on Thursdays is an hour and a half of pencils out and everyone goes away happy and relaxed afterwards.”
Nita holds up a small vase which holds a sprig of delicate blue flowers. “The Arts should be at the centre with education,” she muses, “from there you learn all that matters: history, science, mathematics, English and more.”
“Just start with a flower: Where does it come from? How does it survive? How does it grow? There is so much to learn.”
In addition to the art classes, Nita is the library convenor and a JP. “I came in just over five years ago after seeing a notice that JPs were available in the library. I popped in to offer my services then they said, ‘Do you want to help on the desk?’ and I’ve been here ever since.
Being a JP is an important job to Nita, “I do it at least four or five times a week,” she says. “Many people know I’m here because of my personalised number plate so they often come in to say hello.
“Even in Toowoomba I’ve had messages, ‘You’re here, come and have a coffee!’ because of that number plate,” she laughs.
Nita is at the library three or four days a week and enjoys being part of the team. “Everyone does their own jobs and I stitch and paste it all together – and make tea! Helping others is my favourite part of the job.
“We have a great group of women and men helping run the library now, from 92 years old and down. There are currently three trainees, three who were librarians in the past, and three librarian technicians.”
On one of my visits I meet members of this valuable team: Gaye, Rosemary and Christine are busy with data entry, while Joyce (the main librarian), Gillian, Jess, Joan and Katarina are covering books and making repairs.
“We constantly receive donations and many of the books are virtually brand new. One person donated two boxes of cook books that looked like they had never been opened!”
Diana and Phillipa are ordering books and cataloguing, and (true to her word), Nita is helping where she can and providing tea. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with plenty of laughter bouncing around.
“We also have storytelling sessions on the first Saturday morning of every month for the children,” Nita tells me. “The children range in age from three to eight and they join us from 10.30 to 11.30.”
Nita is also a member of MADCA (Mapleton and District Community Association) and is supporting the request for a new playground at the local Lilyponds park. “The new pathway there was energised by MADCA and I hope for more progress with the playground too.
“I am a fan of sandpits. They are amazing, so therapeutic. You sit in a sandpit and build something, or wreck something, and you feel so much better.
“MADCA also supports the ‘Preparing for Prep’ free workshops for young families held at the Library over the past four years. Partnerships for these also include the local school, Lions and Zonta, and the schools say they see an improvement in the engagement of the children of the families who attend.”
Nita says the library is all about give-and-take in the community. “For the Trivia Night at the Bowls Club we give them books or they swap with us. The Op Shop sometimes has too many books so we go and have a look to see if we can use some and, we give them our old furniture.
“The wooden boxes on the verandah were made by the local Men’s Shed for storing art and craft for the children while the wooden display cases inside were made by the Montville Woodies. Partnerships are important to the library and to the community.
“Mapleton has a whole underlying people focus which is why we love living here. They know how to support and be caring.”
I take one last look at the wild blue flowers in Nita’s hands. “I do a lot of identifying of plants,” she shares, “through the mail or in Brisbane. I can identify a squashed plant easier than in a vase. I see its shape, form, patterns, art and science. They all come into it.”
Botany, art, books and building links in the community, Nita Lester and Mapleton Library are a wonderful combination – and, the next book you take out may even hold a pressed flower…