FRIENDS of Corner Inlet Libraries (FOCIL) are looking at future options for Foster Library because 10 years after it opened, this branch of West Gippsland Regional Libraries (WGRLC), located in the Stockyard Gallery complex in Main Street Foster, is proving too small.
Library loans are up 10 per cent and library visitations are up 15% for the first three-quarters of the current financial year (July 2010-March 2011) compared to the same period the previous year.
“Because of economic constraints, the current library was not built to WGRLC standards and a smaller version was built instead,” FOCIL President Barbara Partridge said.
“With increasing use, the library is too small and there are other facilities we would like the library to offer such as a meeting room, a quiet study area, points for computer plug-in, Wi-Fi, games for teenagers, somewhere to browse e-books and more seating.”
She continued, “We also want improvements to shelving that take up more space as elderly people have difficulty accessing the stock on the lower shelves and we want more face-out shelving for browsing displays.”
Further, Ms Partridge contended that there was more stock than the shelves could cope with, dedicated spaces needed for new technologies, and severe congestion occurring when activities are held in the library’s cramped quarters.
The 25 storytime sessions held since they commenced at Foster Library in October 2010 have attracted an average attendance of 28, which West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation (WGRLC) Acting CEO Janet Aumann describes as “pretty exciting”. Membership is stable, Foster Library is “right on its performance targets,” and although there is no timeline scheduled, the capital works schedule in the WGRLC Library Plan 2010-2104 recognises the need “to address the floor space issue and provide access to community meeting/program space at Foster Library.”
Ms Partridge observed that there was insufficient space for children, babies and parents attending the storytimes (with associated craft activities) and that adults attending activities such as Between the Covers discussions, were forced to cram into the children’s area as that is the only open space in the library.”
More room is sought for magazine, CD and DVD racks too.
“If they give us the space, FOCIL can help fund the equipment with proceeds from its book sales,” Ms Partridge promised.
FOCIL are also interested in attracting more teenagers to regular library use, and would like to offer computer games as Leongatha and Warragul libraries do.
She believes that the library could be an excellent location where the young and the elderly could learn to positively interact together as well as take advantage of educational opportunities.
FOCIL Project Officer Chris Kemper said the group wanted the community to “make the most of the opportunity to look at all the options and decide what is best for both the Stockyard Gallery complex and the community.”
“Ideally, we would love something like the Inverloch Community Hub, and we know from the example of the new library at Mt Gambier, that using imagination does not necessarily mean something has to be costly,” she pointed out.
After FOCIL members unanimously voted to commence pursuit of a larger library, member Shirley Westaway presented a submission to Foster Community Association (FCA) about the proposal for a larger library facility with the idea included in the Planning for Real community visioning exercise.
“Naturally we support the idea because it has support from the community and the gallery may also be seeking more space,” FCA President Larry Giddy said.
“All options should be open for discussion,” he emphasised.
Ms Westaway has also begun contacting politicians for support.
To date, she has received a letter of support from Peter Hall MLC for any applications that might be made for funding to upgrade Foster Library.
In the letter, Mr. Hall cites reasons for his support, including the difficulties for elderly people with mobility aids in moving around inside Foster Library due to space constraints, the need for extra area to house the social and educational resources/services that libraries importantly contribute to their communities, and the likelihood that the already increasing visitation figures would rise further if there was a more attractive facility available.
Mr. Hall also praises FOCIL for its consistently “fantastic” fundraising efforts on behalf of the library.
FOCIL are yet to discuss the possibilities for expansion with Stockyard Gallery, Foster Community House and the recent movement to start a University of the Third Age in Foster, as the Friends expect there could be issues of mutual benefit that could be shared by these organisations.
The Friends have already written to South Gippsland Shire prior to its 2011 adoption of the rolling Long Term Financial Plan but have yet to receive a substantive response from Council.
Not on Shire Radar
During a ‘Munch with the Media’ session last Thursday morning, Council’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Tamlin said he was not aware that FOCIL wanted to expand Foster Library or be part of a community hub development, but he invited the group to meet him and discuss the matter.
He said there was “little opportunity and minimal area for an extension to the existing building because of boundary setback limits and car parking requirements.”
The only possibility he could pinpoint would be an extension built north of the library wing over the garden and paved approach, which he estimated as fairly costly for the amount of space obtained and likely to have issues with the existing external structural walls.
He expected that interest in a capital works redevelopment of the existing Stockyard complex building was “not on.”
With the Parks Victoria 10-year lease of office space (occupying approximately half of the Stockyard complex) ending in 2014, Mr. Tamlin advised he would also need to consult with Parks Victoria, which he noted as an important employer in the town.
While a community hub for Korumburra (which might include library improvements) seems to be gaining traction at the Shire and appears to have the Mayor’s personal support, Mr. Tamlin was not over-enthusiastic about a community hub for Foster although he opined that “all ideas are good ideas”.
When the site of the Shire’s Foster depot and former kindergarten was suggested as one possible location for a Hub given that Foster Structure Plan foreshadowed the depot eventually moving to the light industrial area on Lower Toora Road, Mr. Tamlin responded that he had not heard that concept discussed since he had started as CEO and that it was “not on the radar”.
He indicated that South Gippsland Water, which leases the old Maternal and Child Health Centre building from Council and is another employer Council is keen to retain in Foster, had approached the Shire with a view to purchasing “a bit of the depot” for additional office space.
Asked if Foster Community would necessarily be consulted before such a transaction occurred, Mr. Tamlin replied, “No.”
He agreed that budgeting in Council’s Long Term Financial Plan would be “the best way to go” in planning for Foster library’s upgrade.
With Council suffering a significant amount of cost-shifting as it tried to cover the gap in public library funding left by increasingly smaller ‘real’ allocations by State Government (including the new Coalition Government, which Mr. Tamlin said had reduced library funding even more than the previous Labour Government), Mr. Tamlin was not optimistic that Council could contribute to new capital works for libraries.
“We would have to look at service levels of Foster Library compared to other libraries within South Gippsland and the library region.
“And this year we are already committing funding above and beyond what we had expected for library services.”
Foster Library would be competing with other library needs in South Gippsland as Council has already agreed to pay extra for a permanent mobile library service at Nyora after recent trials proved it would be well used, and WGRLC’s Library Plan also anticipates development of a new principal library at Leongatha and provision for increased space at Mirboo North Library.
However on the other hand, Mr. Tamlin said that the matter of declining State financial support for libraries leading to pressure on municipalities had been raised at a meeting earlier this month with Deputy Premier Peter Ryan.
“Mr. Ryan wants to understand the situation with public libraries, so we are currently gathering evidence to give him in support of increased funding,” Mr. Tamlin said.