People Places Revisited: Guidelines for Public Library Buildings

Article excerpt

The first edition of 'People places: a guide for public library buildings in New South Wales' was prepared by consultants Heather Nesbitt in association with Bligh Voller Nield, endorsed by the Library Council of NSW and issued in 2000. Since then it has been applied to many public library projects in NSW and elsewhere. A second edition, also prepared by Heather Nesbitt and Bligh Voller Nield after extensive consultation with the NSW Public Library Network, was published in November 2005. There are complementary case studies of six post 'People places' public library buildings on the State Library of NSW website. Some of the issues which have prompted changes, including colocation, ecologically sustainable development, safety and security and social capital, are discussed, together with the method of assessing library space requirements. This article is based on a paper presented at the inaugural Public Libraries Australia conference in Albury 9-11 November 2005.

The new edition of People places is available for $22 including GST from Jan Witcombe Public Library Services State Library of NSW Macquarie St Sydney 2000. Tel (02)92731527fax (02)92731244 email jwitcombe@sl.nsw.gov.au. Payment must accompany mail orders, with cheques payable to State Library of NSW. Credit card payments are accepted. The full text is also freely available at www.sl.nsw.gov.au

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In the past few years there has been something of a renaissance in public library building in Australia. At any one time there are about 50 recent, current or impending public library building projects in New South Wales(NSW) alone. Before we get carried away by this statistic, however, we must remember that the gestation period of many library building projects can be lengthy. At the opening of a new library in country NSW in 2005 the library manager reminded me that we had first talked about a new library building 15 years earlier.

Nonetheless, whether they are taking two years or ten to come to fruition, the extent of library planning activity is undeniable. This vote of confidence in the library as a community investment and asset is frequently due to one or more favourable factors

* improving economic conditions, with low interest rates and in some cases councils with low debt commitments

* replacement of ageing buildings which no longer cope

* growing awareness of the significance of libraries as a community asset, as a way of building communities

* visionary elected members and senior council officers

* determined library managers

* fortunate local circumstances, such as buildings becoming available or grant funding stimulating activity

* community support and a track record of good library services

Today there are 363 public library buildings in NSW. Local councils initiate and carry out library construction, mainly from their own finances. Buildings range from under a hundred square metres to several thousand. Most are custom built, although a significant number are in buildings which were constructed for a different purpose: a town hall, a department store, a church, a commercial office building, a school of arts or a supermarket. They may be standalone or part of a complex. They vary in age from just built to historic, with some buildings dating from the 19th century.

A number of public library buildings are still too small, poorly located, inflexible or unappealing. How many fall into this category we do not yet know. There has been no thorough audit of the age, size and suitability of public library buildings in NSW, a situation which the Metropolitan Public Libraries Association, in consultation with the Country Public Libraries Association, is about to address. (1)

Role of the Library Council of NSW

The Library Council has for many years sought to assist in the planning of public library buildings. There have been schemes to provide a financial incentive, including the current library development grant program. …