After being closed for renovations for about 18 months, the Brunswick branch of Moreland Libraries reopened on the 21st August. This was exciting for me on a few levels, not the least of which being because I’m shocking at getting books returned on time and the temporary location didn’t have an after hours returns chute.
Situated within what was once a theatre attached to Town Hall, the gorgeous Art Deco building has clearly received some love and attention as part of the library’s makeover. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage as I didn’t see the library before it closed for renovations, but I’m going to assume that it didn’t formerly contain anything heroically bizarre like a reader’s advisory squid or a lava pit for discarded books.
What follows are some brief observations about the space, illustrated with images that may seem oddly bereft of people, given that the Brunswick branch is a bustling urban library. In reality the place was quite busy, but I took pains to avoid photographing other patrons because hey, that’s weird.
If you’ve seen that show The Librarians (and I won’t ask you if you have, because if you are a librarian you’ll have been asked this question many times already), then you’ll remember the running joke about non-book items being posted through the returns chute. This is absolutely A Thing Which Happens – highlights from my own public library experience include an avocado and a sizable collection of VHS pornography. So I love these fancy returns chutes which require that an item be scanned in order to release the chute’s handle. Strictly speaking I guess this doesn’t prevent miscellaneous ephemera from being shared with library staff, but I imagine it cuts it back a fair bit.
Geoff Hogg‘s mural (painted in what I have just now learned is known as the proscenium arch) draws the eye straight through the main space of the library. The mural includes a portrait of painter/print maker/activist Noel Counihan,for whom the gallery in Town Hall is also named. I think it could overwhelm the space had Brunswick Library not made thoughtful choices with respect to the colours on the walls and in their furnishings. Neutrals keep the focus on Hogg’s large and expressive mural, while soft furnishings pick out certain colours to give the space a pleasing visual unity. I notice too that none of the shelving is particularly tall – it works well to preserve the feeling of light and space within the library, and to allow the eye to roam the various areas from almost any vantage point.
Walking around it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into providing a pleasant browsing experience for borrowers. A central reading area (with a variety of kinds of seats) is surrounded by the collections which are generally high-circulation: e.g. fiction, DVDs, junior fiction, picture books. Collections like non fiction and local history are in a quieter, less trafficked portion of the library, offering a different type browsing environment (one better suited to concentration than discussion).
Brunswick Library has also managed to create a surprisingly large number of hidden spaces for quiet activities like reading or studying. Most of these would be suitable for a group of 2 – 6 people, offering a more private and inviting environment for study or group work than having one large dedicated area. I particularly liked the study space tucked in the back of non fiction (which was in use while I was visiting, hence no photograph).
I expected the renovation would be quite gorgeous and I wasn’t disappointed. Brunswick Library has managed to achieve the very delicate balancing act of providing a space which is both restful and conducive to reflection, while also being vibrant, engaging and stimulating. It’s been my experience that a lot of hard work goes into making the organisation of a space feel natural and intuitive, so congratulations to the staff in charge of determining the layout.
Hogg’s mural works beautifully as a centrepiece for the space, and I’m impressed by the way in which the library has taken a number of visual cues from it. Conceptually I’m enjoying it too – the mural’s subject matter is Brunswick’s people and history, so what better place to showcase these things than the wonderful civic space of Brunswick’s public library?