By Samantha Schraag
To celebrate the 40th birthday of its current home, the Mount Isa City Library reflects in Library and Information Week on the relationship of its building with its community.
Overlooking a dry and dusty riverbed sits a resilient testament to the perseverance of Mount Isa’s people. From its humble beginnings as a small grass roots organisation in a borrowed hall to its ambitious development into a large open-plan learning space, Mount Isa City Library’s building is one built upon the needs of its community.
Mount Isa is the business and transport hub of North West Queensland. Its population has always been diverse, including transient mine and station workers, young professionals seeking outback adventures, making-ends-meet families, and hardy pioneer and first-peoples descendants.
It was in this community of difference that a group of residents in 1949 sought to establish a library where learning was accessible by all. Indeed, the very funds used to finance the project were donated from the weekly wages of the town’s mine workers.
The library, small but frequented, operated independently from the Country Women’s Association hall for eight years until a building was donated for use near where the current library stands.
The North West Regional Library Service grew from this community initiative, and with it came an increased demand for books from surrounding communities as remote as Carpentaria and Croydon. Within three years there were nearly 4000 registered borrowers in Mount Isa alone, nearly half of its population, and by 1971 the library had acquired a collection of more than 37,000 books and periodicals.
Having outgrown its premises, a larger and more modern building was proposed as part of the Civic Centre’s development.
Construction was met with delays but finally completed in March, 1974 to much delight and fanfare. And while the building itself was new – proud and industrial in concrete, metal and glass – none of the self-reliant spirit of the community was lost within its walls.
A toy library was founded to facilitate the education and social development of remote children with learning difficulties, funded with the help of local organisations.
Schools used the building for research and teachers painted murals in the children’s area, public performances were held for kids and adults alike, and free English support services were offered for migrant families and workers. The building itself was designed to be open and fluid with this multi-purpose functionality in mind.
Independent libraries were established in some regional areas like Cloncurry, and with growing support for programs in others from the State Library of Queensland, the North West Regional Library Service was dissolved in June, 1985.
But the library’s building remained, becoming a dedicated and community-minded space for Mount Isa’s residents and visitors.
After several collection revisions and interior renovations, the Mount Isa City Library has evolved into a dynamic and inclusive community centre. The library has grown with the region, and the history of the town’s attitudes and cultures is written in its construction.
And like some of Mount Isa’s citizens, its facade – weathered by the unforgiving outback seasons – belies the warmth and character it holds inside. This library’s building is more than just a store for Mount Isa’s books; it’s a place for Mount Isa’s people.
Samantha Schraag is a Library Assistant for the Mount Isa City Library. This article was developed with reference to the library’s own archives, including articles from the North West Star newspaper. The post originally appeared on line at: http://ab.co/ScKiC4