Reopening of Woolgoolga Library in the Mud Brick Building

The first Woolgoolga library in River Street had been closed after 14 years of operation in 1979, due to the introduction of a mobile library service (aka the ‘bookmobile’). With Council deciding to withdraw from Clarence Regional Library Service in 1987, to operate its own standalone library service for Coffs Harbour Shire, it was decided that the Woolgoolga and Toormina branch libraries would be re-established in lieu of the bookmobile service.

Woolgoolga Branch Library officially opened on the 10th November 1987 in Boundary Street, part of a complex of mud brick buildings that made up the local community centre. There were two small rooms on the northern side of the Community Hall, towards the RSL Club building – the library occupied the room facing the street. The library opened with 2,106 fiction titles, including children’s books, in an area of just 13.2 square metres. The room felt crowded if there were any more than two customers in it at any one time!

Coffs Harbour City Library had been allocated a 40% share of the bookmobile stock when it withdrew from Clarence Regional Library. This equated to 2,474 items, out of which approximately 290 items were allocated to Woolgoolga and 640 items received were either in poor condition or so out-dated, that it was considered contrary to the library’s objectives to place them on the shelves! The remainder of the 1,544 items were shared between Coffs Harbour and Toormina Library.

Fortunately at the time, Canterbury Municipal Library donated their Punchbowl Children’s Library stock to the region. Out of the 2,315 books received, 405 were allocated to Woolgoolga Branch. Other donations totalled over 1,600 out of that over 450 went to Woolgoolga.

By the end of 1988, Woolgoolga Library held 2,600 items. It included 206 large print books and some audio books (aka ‘talking books’).

A letter was written by the City Librarian David Warton to the Chair of the Management Committee of the Woolgoolga Community Centre in December 1988, requesting to rent the office adjacent to the library that had 14 square meters of space that would be used to meet the growing demand for non-fiction material, including basic reference works. This would mean a total of 27.2 square meters for the library. Even with the additional space, it was clearly not enough for the community of its size.

The Management Committee applauded the desire to expand the Woolgoolga Branch Library. It granted the requested space, on the condition that the study desk and chairs that would be set up in the additional room could be used for the Management Committee approved interviews and counselling when the library was not open. In addition, they expressed that Woolgoolga needed a permanent library as part of the Community Centre and the future planning for the location, size and style of the library building should start.

A telephone was installed in Woolgoolga Library in 1989 and an out-of-hours book return ‘chute’ was also established. The introduction of non-fiction material proved popular and good use was being made of the small reference collection. Library staff member Janine Gray operated the Woolgoolga Branch at the time. The opening hours were Tuesdays 2.00pm to 4.30pm and Fridays 9.00am to 11.30am.

Library staff however felt that the library was tucked away from public view. By 1993, the library was serving approximately 35 borrowers per day, with up to 150 books being lent out from a site with very limited capacity. There was no air-conditioning, no photocopier and no computerised access to the library service collection. These issues were to be addressed in the new branch library to be opened in 1994 which had an area of 67.5 square meters and a more prominent location.

Written by Surinder Kaur

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