Underground resistance to buried books

BIBLIOPHILES have declared war on plans to bury Fremantle library.

As part of its long-planned revamp of Kings Square, the council wants to put the library underground.

But critics say the plan is short-sighted and fails to harness the library’s potential as an attraction in its own right.

They say a better-planned open, light-filled library extending into Kings Square could become a major cultural attraction and modern communications hub and tell the story that Fremantle values literature, literacy and learning.

Herald sources say the city’s mild-mannered librarians are deeply unhappy at the prospect of being sent underground, but have been unable to express their views publicly because of council gag rules.

Three former councillors, June Hutchison, Gerry MacGill and Valerie Cousins, say the undergrounding is a mistake.

“We talk about interactivity at street level when we’re talking about shops, and it’s even more important for there to be interactivity for a library, which is a valuable community service,” Ms Hutchison told the Herald.

• Library user June Hutchison is urging a rethink of the Kings Square designs. Photo by Steve Grant

• Library user June Hutchison is urging a rethink of the Kings Square designs. Photo by Steve Grant

“If we had a bigger library with more services it would draw more people into Fremantle.

“You could have more computer work spaces, where people who work from home could hire it out for a couple of days so it’s an income.”

Ms Hutchison, who spent eight years on the state library board, notes tiny Peppermint Grove library has a grand piano and holds recitals to coax in new users.

“You could have more community involvement and we’d be crazy to miss this opportunity to think about that in the design,” she says.

North Fremantle precinct chief Gerry MacGill sits on the council’s library committee with the librarians and he says the proposed cellaring has been raised at successive meetings.

He notes current committee chair is Cr Andrew Sullivan, who’d sat on the panel that selected Kerry Hill Architect’s design for the square.

Valerie Cousins believes there’s a physical risk to council records that can’t be ignored.

Noting that in 2010 UWA lost 20 per cent of its achives in a freak hailstorm, she says a flood could damage the city’s irreplaceable local history collection of documents and photographs: flood damage could occur from leaking sewerage, rising seawater or from water and chemicals used to hose down a fire.

Mr MacGill says libraries should be “circulation spaces” with users able to seamlessly head to other destinations: putting the library downstairs makes it a dead end.

Ms Hutchison says it’s important to remember the council’s plans aren’t final and there is a chance for a rejig, but she acknowledges it will take a major shift in thinking to get councillors to change gear.

by STEVE GRANT

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