Coffs Harbour Library opens for business!

April 15 1964 was a special day for the Coffs Harbour community as they were welcomed into their new public library for the very first time. You can just imagine the excitement of the library staff as they opened the doors on that day, probably to a crowd of enthusiastic book lovers keen to check out not just the new books, but also this new community space.

The library had planned ahead and allowed pre-registration of borrowers to take place on April 13 and 14, which meant that at its time of opening there were already 307 adults and 99 children ready to access the 4000 items on the shelves. Interestingly, if you wanted to borrow adult fiction, you were charged three pence a book, but there was no charge for non-fiction or childrens books.

As expected, the initial opening period was a busy time for this new branch of Clarence Regional Library, and the sole librarian at Coffs Harbour, Miss E. Grainger required assistance from library staff at Grafton to help her run the library. The interest in Coffs Library only seemed to increase, which resulted in a junior library assistant, Miss Karen Ulman being appointed in July 1964, which would have helped with the work load.

The library was situated in the Civic Centre, along with the council chambers, shire administration office, town hall, supper room and the town clock. The Civic Centre was centrally located on the corner of Castle and Vernon Streets and would have been an impressive sight – the total floor space was over 30,000 square feet making it one of the largest civic buildings in the entire state.

The library itself was a rectangular shaped room which was 48 by 36 feet in size – so not a particularly large room by any means, but certainly ample for what the community needed at that time.  It was estimated that the library could hold up to 25,000 books, so at its time of opening it would have had a lovely spacious feel to it as its book stock was relatively low at that stage. Photographs of the library interior showed that the bulk of the bookshelves were along the walls, with the middle section left for a more casual reading area. The room itself was especially designed to allow for natural lighting which would have added to its appeal as well.

In 1964 the Library was open 29.5 hours per week and had a rather interesting span of hours – Monday and Thursday from 3-8 pm (closed from 6-7); Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 11.00 to 5.30 pm, and Saturday mornings from 10-12.00 pm. It would be interesting to know how the council decided on these hours as there certainly seemed a preference towards a much later start and finish to the day. Library customers who visited outside council’s business hours needed to access the library not through the main entrance but through a side entrance on Vernon Street.

Its interesting to look back and imagine our library service back in 1964 and then think about the journey that Coffs Harbour library has taken in terms of its development and evolution as a community service.

What will it be like in another 50 years?

Written by Liz Thomas

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