Ivanhoe Library, Melbourne, Australia

A Library Planet post by Fiona Kells

Situated atop the highest point in the ‘burb, the Ivanhoe Library used to occupy a three-storey 1960s Modernist building. Designed by local architecture firm Leith & Bartlett Pty Ltd, the building featured clean and simple lines, a glass curtain wall, open stairwells and a double-height, open-plan reading room with mezzanine balcony. It was a funky place, inside and out, and the view from the top floor’s south-facing windows of Melbourne’s CBD was amazing.

Sadly, the municipal council decided that this building had reached its obsolescence and had to be replaced. I mourned its passing (why not repurpose it ☹) but thankfully missed its destruction; Melbourne was (largely) under Covid-19 lockdown at the time the wrecking ball was unleashed in 2020.

In 2021, the Ivanhoe Library & Cultural Hub was opened. Now abutting the art-deco former Heidelberg Town Hall, the new building was designed by another local firm, Croxon Ramsay Architects. It is a striking mix of khaki powder-coated metal (plain and perforated), heavily-glazed glass and custom-made brown brick, with a curving façade. The bricks were handmade locally by Krause in Stawell. A public plaza and landscaped native gardens enhance the exterior.

The building’s interior is an interesting mix of large and small volume spaces connected by staircases, gantries and lifts. The palette is earthy and muted to augment the exposed brick, recycled Silvertop Ash, glass and steel.

The main part of the Library occupies the building’s first floor; there is a small mezzanine area between the ground and first floors which can serve as an indoor amphitheatre. The Library is well lit, with a good amount of seating and work spaces (desks are fitted with USB charge-points). Large, south-facing windows have preserved the excellent view of the city’s skyline. It’s a comfortable and eminently practical space.

The Library’s general collection, an IT Lounge, quiet study areas, a Youth space and a dedicated local history room are all housed here. The first floor is also home to a Design Maker Space. This unique facility features a range of design equipment and software that is free to use (must be aged 16+ though) including a laser cutter, a 3D printer, vinyl/craft cutter and a preservation station. Induction sessions provide training for new users. The Makers Space also hosts regular workshops and gatherings. The Library’s children’s section is on the ground floor and is an appealing and (again) very practical area.

With the exception of its local history and Chinese-language collections, the Ivanhoe Library’s offerings are pretty standard: a mixture of popular fiction and non-fiction texts and audio books, magazines, DVDs and CDs for loan and a selection of e-services for use in house or online (with membership). Along with access to computers and free Wifi, the Library also provides printing, scanning and photocopying services for a fee.

The Library staff are knowledgeable and helpful, even offering (limited) IT support. The staff-generated Book Express service provides an appealing selection of the best, newest and most popular fiction and non-fiction titles, and is displayed prominently for easy selection. The Library also offers a variety of regular programs and events for children, teens and adults such as Baby and Toddler Storytimes (my daughters loved these), Reading Dogs, a Coding Club, a Movie Club, conversation groups and Familycrafternoons.

In 2012 the Ivanhoe Library made news when an overdue book was returned after 27 years. Today, the Library has a fine-free policy. However, items more than 61 days overdue and ‘presumed lost’ attract a modest administration fee.

Modern libraries are expected to function as more than just repositories for books. They are expected to operate as community, cultural, creative and learning spaces, and the Ivanhoe Library & Cultural Hub goes a long way towards fulfilling this mission. It is an impressive, state-of-the-art facility in which visitors can access not only the Library, but galleries and creative areas, conference and meeting spaces, a theatrette for talks and performances, and a range of municipal council services. There is even a café on site in case you get the munchies or are in need of a caffeine hit.

In its new incarnation as a multipurpose, accessible and inclusive space, the Ivanhoe Library & Cultural Hub is a busy place. Part of the Yarra Plenty Regional Library network, the Ivanhoe Library and Cultural Hub is open 7 days a week.


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