Papers

Denise Jepson - A short account of some of the lobbying activities of Friends of Castlemaine Library (FOCAL)

Castlemaine is a small country town of around 6000 plus a further 11,000 in the surrounding shire of Mount Alexander. It is famous historically as the site of the world's largest alluvial goldfield. Gold was discovered in 1854 and the library (as the Mechanics Institute) opened in 1857. The town fathers organised a ceremony and a big parade and all the town turned out for it. The building, with some additions is still the library on the same site in the main street.

Our library is a branch of the North Central GoldFields Library Corporation which is centred in Bendigo. It is the busiest branch (per capita) in our Regional system and one of the busiest in Victoria. Library membership is over 8000 and an average of 400 people use it everyday. We now have 3 full time staff and loans are about 170,000 per year. As far as funding goes we get $11 per capita from Council and $4 from the state government which puts us at the lower end of funding in Victoria (where almost all of the country libraries are). The average is $22 per capita.

The library is situated on the main street of Castlemaine, Barker Street, which is also the Midland Highway. It presents a classical C19th symmetrical appearance with arched windows and doorway. The present facade was added in the 1890s. It is on the register of historic buildings but does not have an actual classification from the National Trust, mainly I think, because the building has been altered a number of times over the years and is virtually a shell covering various quick fixes. In 1969 after the last internal renovations were finished, which unfortunately gave us a false ceiling of acoustic tiling and very inflexible built-in wooden shelving, the library was supposed to have a capacity of 11,000 items. Currently we are squashing in 28,000. All the shelves are packed tightly and many of the sections have overflows which makes a volunteer's work difficult. It is true to say that in Castlemaine the library is a very loved institution and a centre for community interaction.

FOCAL began in 1995 on the initiative of some members of University of the Third Age who rose instantly to the challenge of CCT brought in by the Kennett government. The first public meeting was attended by over 200 people, all in fighting mode. The local member, a Liberal, was not particularly supportive. On the other hand, Bob Cameron(Labor), who was to be elected in 1996 and the local paper were very supportive and this support has fortunately continued over the years since. Two tenders were put in, one from the staff and one from a Tafe college. Both were rejected. (They were both higher than current operating costs.) The Board instituted a staff restructure, but fortunately almost everybody retained their positions.

After the threat of CCT faded FOCAL was lulled into security for a short period until the Council decided that it would be a good idea to move the library so that the space could (possibly) be used as a performing arts venue in conjunction with the adjacent theatre. This theatre had been created, but not finished, from the original Mechanics Institute building, for many years known as the library hall. Raked seating and other

renovations had been added without any consultation with the library. Before this happened there should have been a consultative process to work out the best options for use of the space as the library's need was beginning to be pressing . However the theatre was under-utilised and an embarassment to Council because it cost $22,000 a year to maintain and only brought in $3,000. Presumably Council thought a proper arts facility would attract more use. We felt that Council undervalued the library, partly because in their eyes it consumed revenue rather than producing it and that somehow libraries aren't sexy like say art galleries or performing arts centres.

Anyway, Council set up a committee to look at all the options and invited FOCAL to provide 2 representatives along with a number of other community reps and some councillors. Seven possible sites were looked at including the current site and after much argument (and often no support for our position of keeping the library on its site) it appeared that the current site was still a possibility. Consultants were brought in to look at how the theatre and the library could co-exist on the one site and at the same time enlarge the library and finish the theatre. Again we were lulled into security.

Suddenly a new site was found - an abandoned lingerie factory named PEINWA (australian for peignoir) - very ugly and full of asbestos. The only thing in its favour was that it was big enough!

We wanted the library to stay on its historical site for many reasons. The building is a landmark in the district, it is charming, it has continuity with the past, fewer and fewer libraries in Victoria are on their original site, that this would in the future be an attraction in itself. And an argument that we thought should appeal to Council commercial development tended to be happening in another street and keeping the library on its site would help shopkeepers in Barker Street.

FOCAL held a public meeting of more than 150 to make the community's views known to Council. Lots of letters were written to the paper, the local member was supportive and asked questions in Parliament, and the newspaper carried articles expressing local feeling. The Council also organised a public meeting but not one voice was raised in support of moving the library to PEINWA. The Council began to realize that FOCAL did represent the community's feelings and that we were not merely expressing our own point of view.

At this stage (one month before the state election)in 1990 the local member, Bob Cameron, who had a better understanding of local feeling than Council, announced that if Labor won it would give $1 million to enlarge the library on its current site. At the time Jeff Kennett seemed to be riding high and no one felt that there was much chance - however country voters turned against the Liberals and the $1million was ours. Bob, by the way, increased his margin from about 10% to 13%.

After a long process Gregory Burgess was appointed architect. This is a story in itself but I will only say that FOCAL wanted Greg but for awhile not many of the others involved were that keen. Fortunately the situation was resolved eventually. Greg is very well known both in Australia and overseas for many beautiful buildings including the aboriginal information centres at Uluru and the Grampians, the Eltham

renovations had been added without any consultation with the library. Before this happened there should have been a consultative process to work out the best options for use of the space as the library's need was beginning to be pressing . However the theatre was under-utilised and an embarassment to Council because it cost $22,000 a year to maintain and only brought in $3,000. Presumably Council thought a proper arts facility would attract more use. We felt that Council undervalued the library, partly because in their eyes it consumed revenue rather than producing it and that somehow libraries aren't sexy like say art galleries or performing arts centres.

Anyway, Council set up a committee to look at all the options and invited FOCAL to provide 2 representatives along with a number of other community reps and some councillors. Seven possible sites were looked at including the current site and after much argument (and often no support for our position of keeping the library on its site) it appeared that the current site was still a possibility. Consultants were brought in to look at how the theatre and the library could co-exist on the one site and at the same time enlarge the library and finish the theatre. Again we were lulled into security.

Suddenly a new site was found - an abandoned lingerie factory named PEINWA (australian for peignoir) - very ugly and full of asbestos. The only thing in its favour was that it was big enough!

We wanted the library to stay on its historical site for many reasons. The building is a landmark in the district, it is charming, it has continuity with the past, fewer and fewer libraries in Victoria are on their original site, that this would in the future be an attraction in itself. And an argument that we thought should appeal to Council commercial development tended to be happening in another street and keeping the library on its site would help shopkeepers in Barker Street.

FOCAL held a public meeting of more than 150 to make the community's views known to Council. Lots of letters were written to the paper, the local member was supportive and asked questions in Parliament, and the newspaper carried articles expressing local feeling. The Council also organised a public meeting but not one voice was raised in support of moving the library to PEINWA. The Council began to realize that FOCAL did represent the community's feelings and that we were not merely expressing our own point of view.

At this stage (one month before the state election)in 1990 the local member, Bob Cameron, who had a better understanding of local feeling than Council, announced that if Labor won it would give $1 million to enlarge the library on its current site. At the time Jeff Kennett seemed to be riding high and no one felt that there was much chance - however country voters turned against the Liberals and the $1million was ours. Bob, by the way, increased his margin from about 10% to 13%.

After a long process Gregory Burgess was appointed architect. This is a story in itself but I will only say that FOCAL wanted Greg but for awhile not many of the others involved were that keen. Fortunately the situation was resolved eventually. Greg is very well known both in Australia and overseas for many beautiful buildings including the aboriginal information centres at Uluru and the Grampians, the Eltham library, the Daniel Mannix Library in East Melbourne, and the recent renovation of the Myer Music Bowl. He has won many prizes and is known for his community consultation and sympathy with the surrounding landscape. I might add that everybody involved - all the councillors, the CEO, theatre people and our librarian are now all over the moon with Greg Burgess' style, both personal and architectural.

The $1 million turned out not to be quite enough and after more discussions and lobbying council added $300, 000 (from its emergency fund) and also obtained a grant for the theatre bringing the funding to a total of $1.5 million. Work will finally start in September, although perhaps not soon enough for Bob Cameron who no doubt would have liked some publicity focused on the new library before the next state election. I think we had a combination of luck and hard work in arriving at this outcome, as well as a more sympathetic council in the last part of the saga.

In conclusion we were fortunate that a sympathetic but also pragmatic local member arrived on the scene at the right time, one who realised that supporting the library would gain him some community support which could possibly translate into votes. Amusingly, this contrasts with a statement by one Jack Lawson a great supporter of the library throughout the first half of the C20th. At an Apex meeting in 1954 he reflected on the development of library services since the 1930s but cautioned against complacency, because . . . "if hard times come Council could cut the library grant or stop it altogether. The Government grant would then disappear. There are not many votes in books". This is quoted in a history of the library which we published in 1996 and which is actually called "There are not many votes in books". Perhaps the title needs revising in light of our experience since. As far as our lobbying of Council is concerned I think our persistence and the obvious community support that we had did have an effect. Without wishing to promote FOCAL's role to greater than it deserves I will mention that the reporter for the local paper who has covered all the dramas over the years did say to me that without FOCAL to speak up for the library it would have been moved to some second rate place years ago.



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