Book-lovers were out in force this morning at Wollongong City Council to hear bookstore owner, Leo Berkelouw speak about his history, the importance of reading and the future of books.

Leo is the patriarch of Berkelouw Books, a popular chain of bookstores. The morning tea and talk was held by Friends of the Wollongong City Library, a society which aims to raise funds and awareness about the joys of reading. “We try to bring the services of the library to the attention of the public,” said Carolyn Githens, the president of the society.

Susan Westwood and Bette Walter attended the talk and found Leo’s story fascinating. Leo’s tale of his father’s escape from a concentration camp had them enthralled. “They allowed my mother in to see him,” Leo said during his talk. “She went in with two pairs of women’s clothing, and two women came out.”

For Susan, the importance of storytelling is to learn. “They tell a narrative about who we are, where we come from. Our history…They are important to entertain. Books are an old friend.”

Quoting Cicero, she said, “If you have a library and a garden, that’s all you need.”

Bette Walter agreed, adding the importance of starting early. “Children participate with a book. Watching television there is no interaction,” she said.

Following the talk, Leo shared a morning tea and a chat with the large audience. 

“He was an extremely interesting speaker,” said Carolyn Githens. The bimonthly talks held by Friends of Wollongong City Library are popular amongst retirees, she said, often selling out within hours.

Leo was only too happy to speak today. He said, “I think stories are important because it’s history. We learn from what has happened in the past – ways to move forward into the present and into the future.” 

Books, Leo believes, will remain popular well into the future despite the growing popularity of eReaders and digital collections. “It’s a challenge but I do believe books will always have a place. The printed word is what the author wants to impart with us. The moment that that is revised into electronic or updated, it loses something.”

Carolyn Githens is a reader of both electronic and printed books and the medium of the story doesn’t worry her. Just as long as she has a book, she’s happy. “I’ve been reading all my life. I can’t imagine a life without books.”

Multimedia Reporter: Lucy Dean