Friday, 6 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 6: New Library for Rockdale Clears Final Hurdle

In a closed session late last night, Rockdale City Council voted unanimously to approve the final design and construction of a new Rockdale City Library. Four tenders were considered, with the contract, worth close to $14m, being awarded to Kane Constructions Pty Ltd.

It's been a long process. You can read about some of it in our blog posts from February last year, and in March this year as ALIA Sydney have kept an eye on proceedings. Rockdale City Council and Rockdale City Library have also kept the community abreast of developments through local press and social media channels.

In the open session of the meeting last night, a report on the new library open day held earlier this year, and a visit by the Central Library Development Advisory Committee to Katoomba Library was tabled, and this afforded the opportunity for some community members to speak about the need for the new library ahead of the closed session vote. There were three speakers. Dr John Barclay, who also addressed the Council on this topic in February last year, Mr Andrew Edwards, a student and member of the Rockdale Youth Council, and Ms Marilyn Hart. I caught the tail end of Ms Hart's address which spoke about the value of the library beyond books, as a place of study and learning, quiet contemplation, exhibitions, and local history.

Four councillors also spoke in favour of the new library. Clr Awada mentioned the valuable input of community advocates to the project, Clr Tsounis and Clr Macdonald both expressed the hope that Rockdale would finally get the facility the residents deserve, and Clr Hanna referred to the new library as one of the three pillars for the city and community. In the past the Liberal members of Council have voted against the redevelopment of the library citing the considerable costs of the project being incurred at the same time as other large projects, notably the Bexley Pool redevelopment, and one of the Labor party members has always abstained due to a declared possible conflict of interest, so it has never been a forgone conclusion that this project would proceed. I have heard the current Mayor, Clr O'Brien speak passionately in favour of the new library development at other events, and having two Independent councillors (Hanna and Macdonald) speaking in favour of the proposal was cause for cautious optimism. I was surprised that, in the end, the vote to undertake this project was unanimous, but delighted that it received bi partisan support.

I've lived in the area for a bit more than ten years, so consider my experience of the current central library. In the Local History room, there is no work surface to have material open and take notes at the same time. In the central reading room there are tables scattered around with four chairs surrounding them, but the tables can really only accommodate two people with materials open. The Children's Library is often uncomfortably full at story time because of the restricted space, and there is not a great deal of room a library display, however one has been placed alongside the main walkway. Armchairs for reading are located right next to the YA fiction such that it is a little awkward to browse if someone is sitting there. It is a cramped space, not much bigger than some of the branch libraries. Yet the programs the library runs are the equal of any, the staff are winning awards, the collection continually addresses the changing needs of the community, it's a real shame the space has been so uninviting. But no longer.

Have a look at this "fly through" created by the designers, it's pretty impressive. My favourite part? The rooftop terrace for which Council separately allocated just over $100K to fund construction.  I can't wait for construction to begin, hopefully by the end of the year, depending on development approval. If things proceed smoothly, then the new building could be completed by February 2016.

Advocacy for projects such as this is important, and it's often hard to generate a groundswell of interest in sufficient numbers. I see a need for sharing of strategies and more concerted action as pressures on funding increase. Around Australia the growth of movements such as Get Up! have re engaged citizens to press for change on issues that affect them on an issue by issue basis, and the growth of tools, particularly social media tools, has assisted this enormously by reducing costs and increasing reach. The current campaign from the NSW Public Library Association "Fair Deal for Public Libraries" is one such action, and if you haven't yet signed the petition, then I encourage you to do so on the NSWPLA Community Funding Campaign website, and maybe even Become A Library Champion via the same page.

Do your bit and things can change. Even after 30 years.

-Lauren Castan

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