A Library Planet post by Paul Jewell.
Acknowledgement of Country
Parramatta Library is situated on the traditional lands of the Baramadagal clan of the Dharug Nation. I pay my respect to the traditional custodians of the land, waters and sky around modern-day Parramatta, the Dharug peoples.
The new Parramatta Library at PHIVE with its bright red roof is a beacon in the town square. Home to the new public library, PHIVE is a new, beautiful, vibrant community hub at 5 (‘PHIVE’) Parramatta Square.
Always was and always will be a gathering place for Dharug people
The Square is a meeting place for churchgoers from St John’s Cathedral (stone laid in 1797); it is a marketplace; and for Dharug people it has long been an important cultural meeting and gathering space, where the ‘eels lay down’ and the saltwater meets the freshwater river.
I’m really excited to visit and be able to share with you this post about the wonderful new PHIVE space and library ‘where everyone’s welcome.’ 1
Parramatta is located in western Sydney, about 25 km from the Sydney CBD. The people of Barramada and Parramatta have experienced and witnessed many changes over the years. Acknowledging the trauma of the past, one of the latest transformations has taken place around the evolving Parramatta Square where the PHIVE community and cultural centre, opened in September 2022. Within this exciting new development, two floors of PHIVE are dedicated to the fabulous new Parramatta Library.
I am lucky enough to work in another building in Parramatta Square, so have watched the building grow over the years and was thrilled to finally step inside recently and see what it has to offer the community.
Parramatta’s first ‘free’ library opened in 1958 at Jubilee Hall, No 2 at Parramatta Town Hall.
The new chief Librarian was Miss Margaret Miller, with a salary of 1500 pounds. Looking at the document below, I wonder if library worker wages have risen in real terms?
Since 1958, library branches have spread over suburbs such as Constitution Hill, Dundas and Ermington. In 1992 excitement grew with the arrival of computerisation, and during the late 1990s many foreign language collections, such as Chinese, Turkish, Greek and Hindi, were established to represent the diverse cultural community.
In 1964 the Parramatta Central Library building in Civic Place was officially opened. This lasted till 2016, when the library was moved to a temporary site in Fitzwilliam Street to allow for the digging and construction of the new building in Parramatta Square.
On 23 September 2022 the new Library opened to the public.
The new PHIVE building is visually stunning and with the amazing tilted red roof is the small and snazzy cousin surrounded by a mix of old brick characters and tall glassy towers. PHIVE was designed by award-winning French architect Manuelle Gautrand, in partnership with Australian architecture firms Lacoste + Stevenson and Design-Inc. PHIVE is also a ‘smart-building’, with sustainability credentials and plans in place to be net zero carbon from day one.
‘PHIVE is Parramatta’s new community, cultural and civic hub, located in the heart of Parramatta’s CBD. It features a brand-new City of Parramatta Library, with an extensive book collection, digital resources, dedicated Children’s Library, Heritage Research Lab, meeting rooms and study areas.’2
PHIVE includes multi-use spaces for community and businesses to book, as well as specialist spaces such as a Smart tech lab, sound recording studios, active wellness studios and maker spaces. There is also an ‘Aboriginal keeping place’ for local Dharug folk to access.
You can access the library from either level one or level two. Walking into the library, you first notice the wonderful exhibition spaces devoted to the locals and their Parramatta as a long-time ‘Gathering Place’, nicely linking us to our shared memories. On level one there is another exhibition space showcasing for visitors and locals the ‘Parramatta Past’ and other archival material from the heritage collection.
There is also an informative display of local First Nations stories covering Dharug tales and archives.
Libraries are good for books, study areas and many other things, but, essentially, they are about people. On level two, the display is about ‘Parramatta People’ and provides a nice history of how many of us came to the area from other parts of the world. There is a nice showcase of multicultural festivals such as Lunar New Year, Diwali and Warama, an annual festival celebrating Barramada and First Nations culture.
Local and Family History
On the second floor there is a comprehensive local and family history section which was incorporated from the heritage service and collection previously located opposite the riverside theatre. Locals can now book a time to talk to staff and research local history with staff assistance and access to a space within the new library.
There are lots of individual, quiet study spaces around the library to immerse yourself in study.
To assist those navigating the building, the signage has incorporated innovative measures to include accessible signage in braille.
Information and News
As a visitor, I was struck with how impressive the quality of the collection is. Not only are there many new books but also a diverse selection to cater for all members of the community. There are fiction and non-fiction areas, young adult, manga and graphic novel collections, and an ‘on the screen’ audio visual area.
News is so important today and here you can read print newspapers and magazines in different languages, or even use iPads to read digital replicas of local and national newspapers.
For me, the bright red décor – inspired by native flora – suits a contemplative yet stimulating space for learning and immersing yourself in wondrous information and stories. When I visit with my 11-year-old son he seems to be excited and drawn to the shelves and his ‘reluctant reader’ avatar takes on a more book-hungry character.
A noticeable feature of the collection, and how it is displayed, is the large amount of shelf space given over to display books with their covers showing. For me, this adds to the enticing, serendipitous reader experience and encourages the joyous spontaneity of discovering new books, which is one of the pleasures of visiting any library.
On level one, the children’s section provides a large, diverse collection surrounding a colourful, welcoming area to relax and read with your children.
Often when I visit with my youngest son there are many parents and children enjoying the space and indulging in the awesome collection. Even with plenty of people, there is still a beautiful calm in the air which is typical of extra special libraries.
Unsurprisingly, the tranquil surrounds provide an ideal environment for young imaginations to immerse themselves in independent learning and the thrill of listening to stories.
Connection to community
As a reflection of those living and working in the area, Parramatta Library at PHIVE has a very diverse collection. This includes sections with large holdings in languages representing the community such as Hindi, Korean, Chinese, Greek and Italian to name a few and which reflect Western Sydney’s status as one of the most multicultural urban populations in the world.
One of the exhibition spaces reminds us that Parramatta is and always was a gathering place. ‘Parramatta is a vibrant, diverse global city, aware of its mixed past, dark and glorious, ordinary and magnificent.’ 3
Parramatta Library at PHIVE really has become the gem in the heart of town. I’m looking forward to when the works around the square are completed and when this community meeting space will truly come alive as a place of rest, recreation and personal discovery.
If you are ever visiting beautiful Barramada country or around Parramatta Square, make sure you treat yourself to having a look inside the library and experiencing the community spirit of this important gathering and learning place.
Written by Paul Jewell (Business Librarian, Western Sydney University*). @pdjewell
With thanks and grateful support: City of Parramatta Council. @Parracity https://www.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/phive
Special thanks to Jayne Christian, Baramadagal woman and Chair of Parramatta First Nations Advisory Committee.
*All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own and not those of my employers.
- City of Parramatta, Parramatta Square History, https://www.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/phive/the-precinct/parramatta-square/parramatta-square-history.
- City of Parramatta, Parramatta History and Heritage https://historyandheritage.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/moving-image-collections/people-and-place/parramattas-first-library.
- Barnes, Sarah and Mar, Phillip et. al 2018, Waves of People: Exploring the movements and patterns of Migration that have shaped Parramatta through time, City of Parramatta https://historyandheritage.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/sites/phh/files/field/media/file/2020-05/Waves%20of%20People.pdf.