The ‘Cell Block’ Library at Woolgoolga

There aren’t many people who can recall visiting the Woolgoolga Library in the ‘Mud brick building’ in Boundary Street in the late 80s and early 90s, as it was tucked away in the tiny space equivalent to a bedroom that limited its usage!

Councillor John Essex-Clark was the Chair of the Management Committee that looked after the mud brick buildings in that complex at the time. When City Librarian David Warton requested more space to extend the library from 14 square meters to approximately 27 square metres, Councillor Essex-Clark agreed with the extension of the library space.  In addition, he encouraged David Warton to contact Noel Backman at the Council who was responsible for future planning, to discuss the need for a permanent library.

While the need for a permanent solution for the library was acknowledged, an intermediate site had to be found sooner than later. It was clear from Toormina Library’s experience that a good shopfront in a busy location meant increased usage of the facility. In an attempt to find a prime position for Woolgoolga library, various locations were looked at, including shop 2-3 in Wharf Street; close to the busy shopping area.

The site finally chosen was on the corner of Beach and Boundary Streets, with the library facing Boundary Street, just metres from the unique mud brick building. An historic police ‘lock-up’ was to be renovated and extended to suit the library’s needs.

The other building in the complex was the former police residence; a 100 year old building to be occupied by the Woolgoolga Neighbourhood Centre. This building was later named ‘Marsh house’ after the name of the longest serving police officer, Ces Marsh.

A small crowd gathered for the official opening of the complex in September 1994. The Coffs Harbour City Council Mayor John Smith gave the ceremonial key to Councillor John Essex-Clark who had been a driving force behind the project. Official guests included project coordinator Richard Burnard, Council’s Community Enterprise Manager Geoff Firkin, Council’s General Manager Jeff Wright, Councillor Heather Casson and Councillor Lynne Dalton as well as Neighbourhood Centre coordinator Rashmere Bhatti and the Centre’s chairperson Lynn Wright.

An informal wooden sign on the front of the building ‘The Cell Block Library’ along with a framed vintage police poster that provided officers with a ‘how to’ guide to taking fingerprints was proudly displayed on the feature wall near the entrance highlighting the historic legacy of the building.

The library occupied an area of 68.5 square meters of the complex. It was clear that the new library was not very big but it had better parking, better exposure and offered new and improved services. The library offered a coin-operated photocopying facility for the first time!

The new library had a computerised Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) linked to the central library via a modem internet connection. Unlike previous years when the only option to check for a book was to see the shelf list for that branch or phone the central library, readers could now search the entire collection and see the list of books held in Coffs Harbour and Toormina branches as well. Library items had barcodes and a whole new system of issuing books was introduced. The new process had tremendously improved the quality and speed of library service when compared to manually stamping the due date on each item, getting the cards out of the book pocket before issuing the books and then filing them in due date order.

A comfortable green cane lounge located in the back room with the children’s books, in a building with three metre high ceiling, was a great place for a family to enjoy the new air-conditioning on a hot muggy day.

Space behind the counter however was challenging! The staff barely had enough room to operate and had difficulty turning around to pick up the reservations from the shelf behind the counter. There was hardly enough room to step back to pull out the boxes under the counter, to place the books in them that needed to go back to the other branches.

Only two months after the move into the new building, the library hours were extended to allow opening on Saturdays from 9.30am to 12 noon. This was in addition to the existing hours being Tuesday from 1.45pm to 4.15pm and Friday from 9.30am to noon.

The move to the ‘Cell block’ library cemented a firm step in the progress of the library service in the area.  The library service was great value to the area and deserved a purpose built library. The Council was well aware and planning would soon start to find a site for a purpose built library for Woolgoolga.

Written by Surinder Kaur

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