Beecroft Children’s Library Beecroft Children’s Library was a vibrant and significant part of the Beecroft-Cheltenham community for over 50 years. It was important for two reasons:
▪ it was an important resource for the area’s youth, complementing the high quality schools the area is renowned for; and
▪ it was a good example of volunteerism, with it’s fund-raising social activities a focal point for the community, as well as the volunteer staffing of the library.
Today we take for granted the easy availability of books – from school and council libraries, from the many bookshops and information is also available through the internet. However, in 1942 there were few opportunities for any type of “book learning” and many Australians were semi-literate through a lack of adequate schooling. The library at Beecroft Primary School was a single bookcase in the Headmaster’s room, only available to the 6th class. A number of local parents became aware of the need for children to be introduced to books for pleasure, learning and education.
The Library was established in 1942 by the Beecroft Auxiliary of the Children’s Library and Crafts Movement – about forty women who raised the funds to provide a librarian, books, shelving, furniture and to pay rent. Initially housed in a room at the School of Arts (now the Beecroft Community Centre) with Miss Kathleen Ebbs as the first librarian, supported by other volunteers who were rostered to attend the desk, enrol borrowers, catalogue, arrange and mend books. In 1957 a total of 12,931 borrowings were recorded – an average of 250 books per week by 800 registered borrowers; mainly primary school children from Beecroft Primary and the Arden Anglican School.
The senior reading section was started in 1958. The collection was designed for a wide range of reading ability, fiction and non-fiction and for both general learning and reading for enjoyment. The favourite books reflected the times – the Milly-Molly-Mandy series and Angela Brazil in the 1940s; Enid Blyton and Nan Chauncy in the 1950s; Patricia Wrightson, Ian Southall, the Narnia series and Dot and the Kangaroo in the 1960s and 1970s; Colin Thiele, Ruth Park and John Marsden in the 1980s and 1990s; Shakespeare and Seven Little Australians at all times.
The auxiliary was involved in a range of fund raising activities. It formed a social circle that provided its members with a sense of belonging and community and was characterised as having drive and dedication, skill, creativity and initiative. In keeping with the period, none of the women were in paid employment, and the Library gave them a purpose that went beyond the social activity, for they were sustaining something worthwhile for the community. There was a sense of ownership and pride in the local resource that they controlled locally, unlike other worthwhile activities such as the Red Cross and the P&C.
The three main annual events were the:
• Pet Show – usually held in the Village Green, it was the main revenue source, often raising over £200. There were prizes for the biggest, fastest, furriest, even the ugliest pet along with stalls selling drinks, cakes, lunch, crafts, garden produce, lucky dips, hoopla and of course, a raffle. The last Pet Show was held in 1963.
• Annual Luncheon – the social event of the year. Initially held in the School of Arts and later in local church halls, 150 – 250 guests attended wearing their most stylish frocks, gloves and hats. Each member of the committee contributed to the cost of the food, brought a cake and hosted a table, often laid using their own china, glasses and silverware. Catering was a collective effort – cold corned leg of lamb, salads, casseroles and desserts with lots of cream. Guest speakers added to the occasion.
• NSW Children’s Book Council Book Week – fostering links between the library and local schools, with visits to the local schools and pupils invited to the Library to learn of the annual Children’s Book of the Year Award winners. Essay and poster competitions, colouring-in, puzzles and guest speakers filled out the event and in some years there was a Fancy Dress Book Parade and Fair.
In addition there was a year-round stream of smaller fund-raising events, including – cake stalls, a coin drive, puppet show, cooking demonstrations, wine and cheese tasting, barbecues, theme dinners, games evenings, bridge parties, a cabaret dance, theatre outings and a tennis tournament.
In 1962 the Children’s Library moved to a new location – a demountable building that was originally the Commonwealth Bank branch, which was relocated to a site adjoining the newly built Beecroft Arcade. The library thrived – annual borrowings grew to 35,000 books by 1970 and despite rising costs and the increasing challenges of fund-raising, lending remained free without any membership fees. In 1973 the number of active borrowers peaked at 2,573 and the stock of books totalled over 6,500. There was a special collection of picture books for infants, the non-fiction section provided information for many a school project and the learning of English by migrant parents was helped by the availability of books at different levels of difficulty.
In 1975 Hornsby Shire Library took over responsibility for providing the books, though volunteers continued to staff the library. This greatly reduced the need for fundraising activities and the focus shifted to maintaining the staffing rosters. The Annual Luncheon ceased in 1975, but the social aspect of working with the children in the library remained a personal satisfaction for many volunteers.
To facilitate the redevelopment of the Beecroft Arcade by Mirvac in 1976, the library was moved to a purpose built building on a corner of the car-park in Wongala Crescent. In the 1970s and 1980s it was noticeable that many volunteers had themselves been borrowers as they grew up in Beecroft and Cheltenham.
Senior students pursuing Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Girl Guides were also a helpful source of volunteers. But society was changing and many mothers now worked or undertook tertiary studies, whilst extra-curricular activities diverted both students and parents. Volunteer numbers fell and the rosters became harder to fill. In 1988 the library was incorporated into the Shire Library’s electronic catalogue and borrowing system and Hornsby Council began providing staff, using volunteers as assistants.
Children’s Book Week continued as an annual event, with the auxiliary purchasing the awardwinning and short-listed books for the library and giving a book to each of the local schools. Infants from the local schools and playgroups visited the library with a display and book-marks using that year’s Book Week theme. A Christmas party and occasional fundraising events were held, continuing the social traditions of the auxiliary.
The Beecroft Children’s Library closed in December 1998 after a decision by Hornsby Council to rationalise its library services to fewer, larger libraries in the Shire. Over 55 years of service to the local community had ended. In 2001 the land occupied by the library was sold and the building was demolished, to be replaced by a medical centre.
Over the many years of the Children’s Library’s operation, it was central to the community fabric of Beecroft and Cheltenham. The library was a happy, comfortable place, conveying a sense of belonging. Many lasting friendships were formed and it was helpful in welcoming residents new to the suburb. Library volunteers still remember the enjoyment of helping and watching children learn the joys of reading. The children were rewarded with a better experience in growing up, than would otherwise have occurred.
For more information, see Beecroft Children’s Library : Giving the gift of reading 1942-1998, compiled and edited by Emma Dortins, published by the Library Sub-Group of the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group, 2005. This book includes a number of quotes from early library users and others active in the library committee and is a good example of the results of an oral history project