The Ballarat Library is continuing to expand its role in community, with a vision to become a hub of social connection and an inclusive space for all residents.
A multi million dollar upgrade and expansion project is set to transform the space for visitors in 2020.
It comes after the completion of upgrade works at the Sebastopol Library that has resulted in a 100 per cent increase in the number of visitors to the space, highlighting the changing role of libraries.
City of Ballarat Executive Manager of Learning and Community Hubs Jenny Fink said now more than ever libraries were becoming a space for community to work and interact.
"It was quite a few years ago now that people were saying this is the end of the book and this will be the end of libraries as we know it," she said.
"Happily and thankfully, that never happened. But libraries even before that time had become so much more than places to store books.
"If you don't have a work space you go to and if you don't have a big backyard or that home space where you can just be you, this is the place to do it.
You can be anyone coming into a public library and you will always be welcomed and are able to use the space in whatever way you want.Jenny Fink, Executive Manager of Learning and Community Hubs
The Victorian Government announced $500,000 to renew and expand the Ballarat Library in December. This is on top of the $1.9 million the City of Ballarat has allocated for the project over two years.
Visitors to the library can expect more dedicated spaces for social interaction and work, and easier access after the upgrades are complete.
The funding will allow the library to expand its public space by about 700 square metres into the first floor, which has previously been a staff space.
An expanded and upgraded section will be created for children's programs, with space for storytime events for 100 people, as well as a dedicated discovery area.
The front entrance of the library will be relocated to face on to the Civic Hall and future GovHub plaza area under the new plans, allowing easier access to the library direct from the carpark.
The Ballarat Library was architecturally designed and constructed in 1994.
Ms Fink said staff were lucky to be able to work with amazing features of the building like the dome area and windows, but it had been difficult to retrospectively fit it with technology.
"I think the biggest change with the upgrades will be how this library works and flows," she said.
"Technology has really changed the way we use this library."
The new expansion into the first floor will see the creation of dedicated youth spaces, a makers space, a technology hub and more meeting rooms.
The refurbishment will also incorporate an outside relaxation area for reading.
Library staff have visited Geelong Library, Library At The Dock and the Bendigo Library for inspiration on the upgrade project.
The next step is to engage an architect and organise public sessions to allow users to have their say on what they want to see in the upgrade.
Current visitor numbers to the Ballarat Library average around 700 to 900 people per day, according to City of Ballarat. This number prior to GovHub construction works was about 1200 to 1400.
Ms Fink said staff were expecting the number of visitors to the library to increase by at least 20 per cent once the upgrades are complete.
Although this could be much higher if opening hours were to be extended, as was the case at Sebastopol Library with a 100 per cent increase in visitors.
READ MORE: Sebastopol library opens to the public
Ms Fink said upgrades had transformed the Sebastopol Library. It reopened in January.
"Sebastopol Library has gone from 15 hours a week to well over 30 hours a week opening," she said.
"It has become a terrific place for that community, particularly children. Children now come after school every single day to that library, so groups of children now have a place to go. The library has become their place and that is really amazing."
The new Libraries After Dark program has funded the Sebastopol Library to extend its opening hours until 10pm every Thursday night for a special program of free activities.
Ms Fink said it began as a state government gambling prevention program, but had become so much more.
"We started seven weeks ago with Libraries After Dark. I think on that first night we got 30 people and we were just over the moon. Last week we had 100," she said.
"It just shows people want to get out of their homes and want to be with other people in a safe space and a place where you can enjoy yourself and meet other people."
Ms Fink said the philosophy behind Libraries After Dark was in line with her vision for the long term future of the Ballarat Library.
"Our big role is social connection and our big role is being a place where everyone is welcome," she said.
"No matter who you are you can come into a public library, feel safe, feel connected and feel like you are in the right space.
"Sometimes people haven't got good memories about school libraries or the old public libraries they used to visit, what I would say if you haven't been to a library for many many years try it out again, because I think you will be surprised."
Upgrade works are expected to take at least 12 months to complete and it is hoped disruptions to library users during the changes will be minimal.
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