The ACT’s “least patronised library” could be relocated as part of the multi-million-dollar Canberra Theatre Centre redevelopment to attract more users and improve accessibility.
City Services Minister Chris Steel told the Assembly that the ACT Government has been “considering the future of Civic Library for some time”.
“There are great opportunities, I think, to make sure that we can encourage more people to use the library, and that means potentially looking at a change of location in the future,” he said.
“We also know that there has been significant planning work that’s been undertaken in relation to the future development of a new theatre and precinct.”
Mr Steel said Transport Canberra and City Services and Libraries ACT have been working closely with Major Projects Canberra, alongside the Cultural Facilities Corporation, which owns the site.
“And so, of course, we’ll be working closely with them as well about the future of the library,” he added.
“There are opportunities to look at improvements to accessibility, the proximity to public transport and parking alignment with other visitor activities such as retail that we know often drives patronage into libraries and, of course, to see more residents in the Civic precinct using our libraries as well, and as an opportunity to support the renewal of the city and enlightenment of public spaces around the city.”
Mr Steel said the library, which opened in Civic Square in 2006, has struggled to attract visitors, partly due to its location.
He also noted that while the Civic branch is one of the ACT’s newer libraries, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is one of the most well-designed.
“The current location does suffer from some challenges,” he said.
“It’s not directly in the centre of the CBD. It’s further away from where people are parking, where they’re going to shop and do other activities. It can be inconvenient and actually hard to find.
“For members in this place [the Legislative Assembly], we are literally just a few metres away from the library. I often get asked when I’m walking out the door, ‘Where’s the library?’ and they’re literally right next to it.
“There was an inquiry into libraries in the last term of the Assembly, and it’d be no surprise to anyone that Civic Library is unfortunately known as our least patronised library,” he added.
The inquiry found that visits and loans immediately dropped when the library opened at its current site in Civic Square after moving from the Saraton Building on East Row. It cited “the lack of easy parking and London Circuit as a physical barrier for shoppers and workers in the city centre” as the reasons for this fall in patronage.
Civic Library was also the least cost-effective library in the ACT, costing the government just over $1 million to run at the time of the inquiry. Its cost per loan and cost per visit were the highest of any Canberra library, at $8.44 per loan and $6.64 per visit.
Non-employee costs were also significantly higher at the Civic branch than at other branches, likely due to commercial rent.
Mr Steel said that just because Civic Library is the least visited in Canberra doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a library in Civic.
“There are opportunities, I think, to better connect people with our library in terms of its physical location and make sure that more Canberrans can enjoy the fantastic services that Libraries ACT provides,” he said.
“There are many successful libraries in cities around Australia, in the world, which are located in the heart of the CBD. And there are opportunities, I think, through looking at a better location, better fit-out, better programming within the library, to encourage more people to use it.”