A Libray Planet post by Fiona Kells.
The Newcastle City Library occupies the War Memorial Cultural Centre on Laman Street, in the heart of Newcastle. The Library was established via the generosity of Sydney ophthalmologist Dr Roland Pope, who in the late 1940s gifted his personal collection of more than 2,000 books, along with more than 100 works of art, to the city of Newcastle on the proviso that a library and art gallery be built to house them. The idea was enthusiastically embraced by the public and an appeal for donations to a building fund resulted in many thousands of locals contributing through fundraisers and weekly payments.
Designed by a consortium of local architects, the War Memorial Cultural Centre opened on 26 October 1957. It is a three-storey Modernist structure with a striking façade featuring terracotta Faience tiles. Flanking the entrance doors are two sculpted sandstone panels by Paul Beadle. These depict the kinds of cultural activities the Centre was designed to play host to (think books, music and art). There are also two granite memorial panels commemorating the opening of the Centre and the Novacastrian men and women who served during WWI and WWII.
The pink terrazzo-floored foyer is dominated by another sculpture: a pair of towering bronze figures designed by Lyndon Dadswell. The statues’ gazes are directed at a gilded motto above the entrance: ‘In Minds Ennobled Here/The Noble Dead Shall Live.’ A poignant tribute to both war service and literacy.
The Newcastle City Library underwent a major refurbishment in 2017, transforming it into a state-of-the-art facility. I was really impressed by this sympathetic and very practical renovation. I visited on a rainy day and it was a wonderfully light and inviting place. Along with children’s and teen zones, there are quiet reading nooks, study and work areas, and spaces for lectures and meetings. The Library also houses a digital MakerSpace for 3D printing and scanning, coding, robotics and digital embroidery. Gallery spaces on the first floor host frequent exhibitions of work by Novacastrian and other Australian artists.
Besides the usual fare – children’s, young adult and adult fiction and non-fiction books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers and magazines, and digital material including eBooks, eMagazines and eAudiobooks – the Library contains one of Australia’s most comprehensive local history collections (Newcastle and the Hunter region). This is an amazing gem.
The staff are friendly and helpful and the Library hosts a number of clubs and regular events for adults and children (e.g. Baby Book Time, toddler Rock n Rhyme, Lego Club, Young Adult Book Club). There are computers available for members to use, free WiFi and chargebars where you can top up your mobile phone or laptop. Printing, photocopying, scanning and micrographic copying services are available for a fee. Newcastle City Library is fee-free for overdue items. However, fees will be charged if you damage or lose something.
The War Memorial Cultural Centre faces onto Civic Park, which is also worth a look. The views of this well maintained garden from the Library are lovely. I especially liked the huge and wonderful mid-century fountain designed by modernist sculptor Margel Ina Hinder.
Newcastle has a reputation as a working-class city but it is also a cultural and literary city. The Newcastle City Library has built upon Dr Pope’s foundation gift and become an important resource for the people of Newcastle and the Hunter Region generally. The Library is open six days a week; it is closed on Sundays. The Newcastle City Library is part of Newcastle’s public libraries network.