Albany Public Library History
The beginnings of the first public library in Albany occurred in 1852 when the Albany Mechanics Institute was formed. Following the establishment of the Swan River and Fremantle Mechanics Institutes at the beginning of 1851, a public meeting was held in Albany at the Octagon Church on the lower side corner of Duke and Parade Streets. Officers for the Albany Mechanics Institute were elected and included many prominent members of society. Thomas Brooker Sherratt made his Octagon Church freely available for the cultural purposes of the newly formed Institute.
The Octagon Church was home to the Institute until Town Lot 187 was released by the Government in 1853. This lot was on the corner of Vancouver Street and what is now Collie Street where the Fire Station exists today. When the building for the Institute was erected it became the first section of the Albany Municipal Library.
Membership stood at 44 in 1860. In 1866 a new Reading Room was added offering newspapers and periodicals to the public. Accommodation facilities were also added for a caretaker. The opening hours were 9am – 9pm with the library being considered a valuable source for good literature, English and inter-colonial magazines and newspapers and lectures of cultural interest. By 1884 membership had increased to 91. At the end of 1885 it was recorded that library membership was 112 with a book stock of 1650 items.
The Institute proved to be a valuable resource to the community until the impact of the First World War was realised. By 1916, membership was down to 12. A proposal was put forward that the library come under the direction of the Municipal Council with this being adopted in 1917. The Albany Municipal Library was officially opened in 1917 with membership being on a subscription basis.
In 1956, the library moved into a building which stood on the site of where the Albany Public Library stands now. “Victoria House” accommodated the library until the building was demolished in 1966 to make way for the new municipal administrative centre.
At the end of 1955 there was lively debate concerning the promotion of a free library service with the State Library Board encouraging local councils to join the scheme. The debate over costs raged for ten years with much controversy surrounding the division of costs between the Town and the Shire.
The new ‘free library’ service operating out of the new administrative offices in York Street was officially opened in 1968. By the 1970’s the library boasted a book stock of close to 20,000 titles and had a membership that had reached 10,000. This period also saw the commencement of a home library service, the opening of the Sir Claude Hotchin Art Gallery at the western end of the library building and the commencement of the Regional Library Scheme.
The 1980’s saw the establishment of the Local History Collection and the indexing project of local newspapers. A branch library was also opened at Wellstead and the Albany Lions club donated automatic doors for installation to the Albany Public Library.
In 1990 the library acquired the space in the building that the Art Gallery had occupied. This was also a period when the Rotary Club of Albany Port funded the commencement and continued operation of the Albany Oral History Programme. The library introduced an ‘Oracle’ automated library management system and a major library refurbishment of staff areas took place in 1995 with the Local Studies area being moved off-site to the Old Bond Store. The AMLIB library software system was introduced in 1996. A government grant enabled the Language Learning Centre to be established in 1997 and in 1998 internet access became available to the public.
In 2001 approval was given for a $1.32m redevelopment of the Albany Public Library. The funding recognised a partnership with the University of WA in that the library would become a joint use facility. The building was given an extra 500sm floor-space by extending the building up against Alison Hartman Gardens. This allowed space for housing the UWA Library collection as well as the Local Studies Collection that had moved back into the building at this time. The Albany Public Library Redevelopment opening was held on Friday 24th January, 2003.
In preparations for the beginning of the ANZAC Albany Centenary commemorations in November 2014, the Town Square development was completed. This has transformed the space around the library and is a fantastic community-gathering space in the heart of Albany’s bustling CBD.
Today, the Albany Public Library is a thriving community hub with over 70,000 items listed in stock. For the period of 2013 – 2014, Albany Public Library issued more than 375,000 items to 14,000 members. Regular cultural enrichment activities such as author talks, local society presentations and school holiday programs, keep a steady stream of new faces coming through the door and the seed of public service that was planted back in 1852 has blossomed into an institution that stands ready to meet their needs.