Middle Park residents fight Port Phillip Council plan to remove books from library

Middle Park community members show their support for a petition James Woollett started, opposing Port Philip Council plans to remove all the books from Middle Park library and turn it into a collaborative digital working space. Middle Park, Melbourne. Saturday November 25th 2017. Photo: Daniel Pockett
Middle Park community members show their support for a petition James Woollett started, opposing Port Philip Council plans to remove all the books from Middle Park library and turn it into a collaborative digital working space. Middle Park, Melbourne. Saturday November 25th 2017. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Middle Park residents have created an online petition and dropped flyers to hundreds of homes opposing a City of Port Phillip plan to remove books from their neighbourhood library.

The council voted on November 15 to endorse the plan for "refocusing Middle Park Library as a creative and collaborative learning environment".

The proposal, which has been released for public consultation, would see all books moved from Middle Park Library to Albert Park Library.

Middle Park's is the smallest of the council-run libraries in Port Phillip, which the council says makes it more conducive for use as a co-working centre.

It will be closed for an as-yet undisclosed length of time during $47,000 in works to convert the building, council documents show.

The 60-square-metre space has a collection of 4,500 items and accounts for about 1 per cent of annual hard copy loans and library visits within Port Phillip.

Middle Park resident and long-time library user James Woollett??? started an online petition on Friday. He and a group of six Middle Park residents have handed out around 1000 leaflets in the neighbourhood in opposition to the plan.

He said he was deeply shocked to hear about the plan and contacted the council soon after.

Mr Woollett, who has lived in the area for more than 25 years, described the library on the corner of Nimmo and Richardson streets as a "hidden secret".

The "refocusing" would mean it was no longer a library, he said. "A library, in every dictionary I've ever looked up, is a collection of books."

The library is housed in a building alongside a community centre and maternal and child health centre. While it was used by people of all ages, it was most important to families with young children, he said.

"It isn't the biggest thing in this area, it's a tiny little library, but having had a family here for 25 years ... it's the little things, you run into people there, it's the glue that holds the community together."

Port Phillip mayor Bernadene Voss said the plan would free up space in the library, which she described as the size of a squash court.

The low numbers of people visiting the library, which is open 24 hours a week, meant that its operation was not sustainable, she said.

"At the moment people don't want to lose it, but very few people use it. The evidence is there."

Cr Voss said it was unlikely the redevelopment would be cancelled regardless of responses received during the consultation process.

She said residents would however be given a say about "what it is going to look like inside". Groups such as book clubs would still be able to meet there. "It will still have newspapers and magazines, will still have comfy chairs, you will still have access to the same information."

Asked about the number of complaints received by the council, she said she was unsure how many people had so far responded to the proposal.

But she described the opposition as "one person in particular that's whipping up a frenzy and letterbox dropping and things like that".

In 2014 Hobsons Bay Council scrapped a plan to replace all the books in Newport Library with e-books and other digital materials after it faced strong opposition from book lovers.

The City of Greater Geelong this year decided to keep three libraries - at Chilwell, Barwon Heads and Highton - open for another 12 months after public protests erupted when they were earmarked for closure.

Asked if councils closed libraries at their peril, Ms Voss said: "We just really want to move with the times, that's the key message, making it future-ready. We want to make it into a fun learning environment, like a modern living room."

This story Middle Park residents fight Port Phillip Council plan to remove books from library first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.