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Arriving from New South Head Road, the new library is daunting. A big, modern, glassy edifice on the site of an old Woolworths store. This is a modern building. Shiny – with no obvious entrance. Cool like an ice-cube. You can’t scratch this building

I parked around the back, and walked towards it from the rear. The council has closed off the old laneway, which is now throbbing with life. Cafes, restaurants, Woolies and a variety of other shops.

The library building has sweeping escalators to funnel you upward – past medical centres into a wall of windows, table lamps, and a vast blue sky.


Ok – second impressions are improving.

The actual library is on the right, and covers several floors with a sweeping atrium, light-well, and living wall of plants. The building has been designed by architects B.V.N and completed in mid 2016. The architects and interior designers deserve full accolades. The library is (actually) beautiful. They have acknowledge the verdant beauty of the old library, and transposed that to the interior of the new.

Light-well nurtures living wall.

It is inviting, with reading shared spaces, nooks, meeting rooms, study areas, quiet areas – and books. The childrens’ area is playful without being (too) gimmicky or annoying. (Personally, I’d like to say it was gimmicky – with a slide between two floors, and electronic reading material – but the children, their parents and grandparents were having such a good time, I don’t want to be a stuffy kill-joy. It is fun and well-managed.)

I’m greeted by a librarian with an iPad and headphones. She introduces me to Lauren Castan who explains that they no longer sit behind a desk, but wander and greet readers, and help them with their mobile catalogue.

If I had a lingering doubt (which I didn’t, except – well – the eight-year-old inside me had a mild wash shame like when you recognise that someone else’s mother is prettier than yours) Lauren completely won me over.

There are three libraries managed by the Woollahra council: Double Bay (this one), Paddington and Watson’s Bay.

The move, she says, was because the old library was simply too small to house either the collection or the growing population. They also wanted to include ‘technological offerings’ tailored to younger readers. This library has:

  • Free wifi
    Full food & drink library – which causes people to stay a long time
    Roving reference desk: iPad/phone in one (no seats at help desk)
    Self-serve checkout
    Returns room robot
    On-line printing: file print job from home, release next day in the library
    Bookable space (conference rooms, study groups)
    Author events
    On-line references
    Family and local history
    And it’s all free

Accordingly, this might be the best coffee shop in Sydney. I would certainly spend all my time working here. Among the beautiful spaces are single tables close to power points large enough for a laptop and a phone. It is a comfy shared work space.

Upstairs are a series of booths, such as you might find in a cafe – a space happily shared by four people, or two, side by side.

There is a brilliant noisy study space, which, the day I arrived was full of high-school students not quite studying for their final exams. Nearby, was a sound-proofed study room for the other type of student.

The conference room had a seniors tech-class in progress, with projectors and white boards… Well, now I’m just gushing.

The council has developed the space to include coffee shops, fresh food, medical centres and restaurants. It’s lively. It’s liveable. I’m not a fan of government – generally. But boy – they got this right.


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