By Sonia Hathaway
When announced in October 2006 that the Griffith Library would close on 1 December 2006, people in the community were stunned, angry, devastated, furious and more. With no consultation, there was little time to do anything about this unpopular decision.
A couple, regular patrons to the library, went there the following Saturday armed with a pile of template letters asking other library users to explain why they wanted the library to stay open. The letters which delivered by hand the following Monday morning to Mr Hargreaves and copies circulated to other ministers.
Energy levels ran high that morning as the community rallied, completing and signing over 200 letters on the first day. The same operation was carried out the following Saturday and just as many letters, as well as a petition, were signed and delivered to Mr Hargreaves.
Mr Hargreaves was very dismissive about the hundreds of protest letters, writing that they were not ‘letters’ but merely templates, despite being personalised content. Ironically, his response letters to the protestors were all copies.
After many more letters and e-mails which were directed at his office, he refused to take calls, was not available for any meetings from concerned citizens. He voted against allowing extra time to debate the issue, and effectively gagged the Assembly, reiterating his views that there was no point in consulting with the community as he already knew that we would vote against closing the Griffith Library because the community wanted the Griffith Library to stay there!!
Many people joined in letter-box dropping information about a rally and the community support for this venture was nothing short of amazing. At the eleventh hour, Mr Hargreaves agreed to attend the rally and take questions.
ABC News estimated that 1,000 attended the Rally. Speakers flawed the closure arguement, hailing it as one of Canberra’s most unpopular decisions, inconsistent with the Government’s policies on improved services for the ageing, improving literacy rates and life long learning, or regard for social justice. It was clear that the closure of the library would impact adversely on significant numbers of people in the inner south including the elderly, school children and various disadvantaged groups. In all these cases, most would consider ready access to a library vital. It seemed such a retrograde step to take away a facility that from a user perspective was working so well, especially against relatively minor savings. The extent of concern and anguish this has caused cannot be over emphasised
The Lunn report conveniently ommitted some of the library’s catchment suburbs such as Forrest, Yarralumla, Queanbeyan, Oaks Estate, and Jerrabombera. Addresses of the letter signatories demonstrated the widespread use of the library. Children from nine schools in the area regularly drop in on their way home from school for homework or leisure purposes. Young mothers with their toddlers came for Story Time. The elderly and people with a disability would not be able to readily travel to the libraries put forward as alternatives such as Woden and Civic.
So started the South Side Community Library Taskforce, from a handful of people who banded together to address this unacceptable situation. Four women started meeting on Friday mornings under the trees outside the library for Story Time. They brought
chairs, ground sheets, books, some cordial and biscuits. A large banner was hung between the trees.
After Story Time each week we would sit in the sun (and sometimes the bitterly cold wind) brain storming what we could do. Numbers were dropping off; it was just too cold to bring little children out now that Autumn was on the way. It seemed a disgrace that here were little children rugged up in warm clothes and sitting outside when the library was still being used by admin staff – we were not even allowed inside to use a toilet.
We came up with many vague ideas, but nothing concrete. We wanted to start a modest library with books, newspapers, magazines, computer access to the internet. We would need shelving, books, computers, insurance and above all MONEY. We were just four ordinary people, plenty of heart, energy and enthusiasm.
Somebody was looking after us. After attempting to rent various venues we were put in touch with the people at Boomanulla Oval – they had a demountable on their premises no longer being used. They were so supportive and although needing some work, we rented the place for six months as an interim measure.
When our story was published in one of the local papers, offers of help rolled in. Weekly meetings moved to daily. Fears were aired but everyone stayed positive. What could we lose? What if nobody came? What if we didn’t get enough books? What if nobody joined or donated to our cause? At least we could say we saw a great need for our South Side community and we did our very best to achieve a solution.
The Griffith Library was the heart of our community. We plan to make the Goyder Street Library that heart.
This exercise will hopefully demonstrate to the Government that the decision to close the library was wrong and if we can get enough people to join our library and use it, perhaps the need for a permanent library for the Inner South will be acknowledged.
Annual membership fees
$20 for a family
$10 for a single member
$ 5 for a child or concession member
People can also become life founding members.
We hope you get behind this wonderful initiative.
Congratulations to the Goyder Street Library and grateful thanks to Boomanulla Oval, Col Williams and Noel Ingram from Ngunnawal Local Aboriginal Land Council.