If anyone doubted the value of neighbourhood libraries or the relevance of books in the digital age, the newly reopened and upgraded Woden branch can boast a startling statistic – a backlog of 7000 requests since it closed for refurbishments.
Not that all of them are for books, because libraries offer so much more than that these days and are becoming community centres in their own right.
The new Woden Library is a $2.243 million glimpse of the future, a possible prototype for what may come out of the stalled community co-design process that will resume next year.
Visitors won’t notice many changes to the ground floor, where there are two new after-hours community meeting rooms, toilets and a community kitchen, but upstairs is a new world of relaxation, work and art spaces, and innovative recording studios for music and podcasts.
Occupied by the ACT Heritage Library for many years before it moved to Fyshwick, the floor is now a multi-use facility where users can read, study or work, take a dance or yoga lesson, brainstorm a business idea, or put down your first single and start a podcast.
The four new spaces on the top floor have been given snappy titles:
- The Hive – a hub for digital exploration with a recording studio, recording equipment, podcasting materials and green-screen technology tools
- The Gathering Space – a place designed for collaboration, which will be available as a meeting space for community groups
- The Life Lab – a flexible space for learning activities, speakers, dance and yoga
- The Haven – a space for quiet relaxation, study and reading.
While not quite retro in style, it does reference its 1970s origins, including the original reading pit.
The new facilities reflect what library users said they wanted. With thousands of new residents moving into the Woden Town Centre in the coming years, the library is looking to serve a range of different needs across generations.
Libraries ACT Executive Branch Manager Vanessa Little said people had been asking to access the building after hours for some time, and libraries were very much evolving into these sort of community spaces.
“So yes, this is very much 21st-century library progression and whilst books are still really important … we are mixing that around now with all of these other activities,” she said.
Ms Little said the co-design had revealed a focus on the arts, particularly recording and the visual arts, and the library hoped to add a younger clientele to its loyal older users.
She said the new facilities would complement the ground floor, which has been getting busier, and provide quiet spaces for people to retreat to.
The library will also provide work and collaboration spaces for business start-ups and community ventures.
City Services Minister Chris Steel, who spent much of his childhood in the Woden Library, said the upgrade would help ensure that Woden had the community facilities that it needed as it grew.
They would also augment other facilities planned for the town centre, such as the new CIT and a dedicated Woden Community Centre.
The upgrade also sets the tone for the future of libraries across Canberra and Mr Steel said the government wanted to hear from the community about what they could look like.
“We’re asking the community to imagine what they’d like to see libraries like in 2030, and that might involve a huge range of community activities that can’t aren’t currently available,” he said.
That could mean extended hours in Woden, particularly if a growing population drives demand.
Ms Little said opening hours were constantly being reviewed.
“We’ll continue to monitor the change in that demographic and the number of people who are going to be within walking distance of this facility,” she said. “We’re very much thinking about that at the moment. But of course, I don’t want to preempt what comes out of the co-design process.”
At the moment, libraries remain closed on Mondays due to COVID staffing arrangements but will eventually return to pre-pandemic hours.
A special public event will be held in early 2022 to showcase the upgraded Woden Library and allow the community to explore and book the new spaces.
Bookings can be made from early next year but enquiries can be made now via TCCS.LibraryRoomBookings@act.gov.au. Fees for room and studio hire will vary depending on the size of the space and the type of group using it.
To learn more about the Libraries ACT: Imagine 2030 co-design process, visit the YourSay website.