The formal opening of the new Waterline library in Grantville early this month was a very exclusive event, attended only by Bass Coast councillors and library service bureaucrats, with no community participation or even prior awareness of the event.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t even held in the library but outside the Grantville Transaction Centre.
Cynics might say this was because the library was too small to accommodate even the dignitaries who attended that day, let alone members of the community.
If you look at the scattering of the townships, it is clear why a mobile library service was introduced in 1985. But on October 23, 2018, library users were told via email from the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation (WGRLC ) that the service would end the following year. There was no community consultation beforehand.
Following a long and loud community campaign, and a petition with over 2000 signatures, the council agreed put in place a replacement library at Grantville.
There was a rumour of renting a shop for the library but that did not eventuate. Instead we ended up with a former meeting room in the Grantville Transaction Centre that provides a small number of resources and a Click and Collect service for books and DVDs.
Naming it the “Waterline Library” is an affront to our community. While it may suit a small number of Grantville residents, it does not service the rest of the communities.
Unless you have a car, access to Grantville is by a very poor public transport system utilising VLine buses and a small community bus that transports residents from the townships to the Bass Highway. There are no alternative options for those who don’t have a car.
The new “library” has largely been shunned by the community since it opened its doors in March 2020. If it was a retail outlet, the proprietors would make an effort to attract more customers. The opposite is happening with the Waterline Library. At the March council meeting, Cr Bruce Kent stated: “Use it or lose it”. Really … not much to lose.
In the WGRLC budget for 2020-21 there is provision for two further libraries to be reduced to Click and Collect, namely Mirboo and Poowong. The trend seems to be developing within the library service for soulless services with minimal content. You order online, collect the item from an unstaffed library and process it on a self-serve machine.
Gone is the community hub, the opportunity to pick up and browse the books, the opportunity to exchange a pleasant word or two with other library users. Gone also is the librarian who greets you, who has a vast knowledge of books and writers, who can point you in the right direction to answer any query.
A good library is a community hub, providing access not only to books, audio books, videos, CDs and services but a place where you will find people for a chat, a coffee or the opportunity to share tips or hobbies with others.
It’s a place where children are encouraged to visit for the range of books, comics and magazines, where activities for adults and children encourage interaction with others.
It’s a place that provides a cool space in summer to escape the heat, or a warm space in winter, a hub where surplus garden produce is available for those who are experiencing a hard time. A place where no questions are asked.
None of these are possible in a library the size of the Waterline one.
Despite the population growth and the increase in younger families, the council has largely overlooked our area for many years.
Now is the time to challenge the council and fight for the services we deserve: an improved library service, improved public transport, improved parks and a safe bike and walking track between the townships.
There is power in numbers and the formation of an alliance or advocacy group would ensure that council would start to listen.
This would not impinge on the current ratepayers’ associations but make them a force to be reckoned with. There are issues that need to be raised in individual towns but we are also part of a wider community that covers all the Waterline townships.
The COVID pandemic has made us all realise just how much we love the sense of community and participation in the place we chose to live in the Waterline.
It is time to dare to dream. Time for all townships to come together as one and to challenge the councillors and bureaucrats to give the Waterline a fair go.
A sense of community cannot be held in the palm of the hand, but can only exist through participation and involvement. We all love where we live and pay our fair share of rates, but this sense of community will only continue with participation and involvement from everyone – young and old.