Northcote's Carnegie Library

The idea for a library in Northcote was first raised in the early 1880s. In 1883 the Northcote Council agreed to set aside a room in the new Northcote Town Hall for use as a library. However it was not until 1890 that the library was established.

For a fee of 10 shillings per annum the residents of Northcote could access the 3,000 volumes held in the library. The library was housed in the Town Surveyor’s office, a mere 25 foot by 12 foot room. The  library was administered by a  committee. This committee comprised of Councilors, ratepayers and library subscribers. To generate additional income to maintain the library the Committee organized various fund raising events. In 1898 these events raised £103.  Given that the library only had £3 in the bank at that time, this was an invaluable contribution.

Efforts began to build a new library and the Northcote Council agreed to contribute £250 towards a new library providing the State Government did the same. The Government would only agree to £100 so the issue lapsed.

The Secretary of the Library Committee, R. J. Whalley was dissatisfied with this state of affairs and decided to approach the Andrew Carnegie Foundation for funds to build a new library. The Andrew Carnegie Foundation was established by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to fund charitable works around the world. He was  a strong supporter of public libraries.

On 21st September 1907 Whalley wrote to the Foundation, asking for £1,500 to build a small library or Mechanics Institute. The Foundation agreed providing certain conditions were met. These were, that the Council must agree to provide ongoing funding, that the library must be free, and the building plans must be approved by the Foundation. A meeting of the  Council accepted these conditions, pledging £200 per annum to purchase new materials and maintain the building.

The Foundation agreed to pay £3,000 for the building of the library, to be paid in three  £1,000 amounts. The Council purchased a block of land on the corner of James and High streets as a site for the new library.  A Federation Free Classical design by Edward Twentyman Jr. was selected, and then approved by the Foundation. A quote for £2,756 was accepted from E. Bowness to build the library. On 22nd February 1911, the Mayor Ralph Archibald laid the foundation stone. Beneath the stone was placed some Melbourne newspapers, a copy of the Northcote Leader, budget figures from the Council, a library catalogue and some coins.

The opening of the Northcote Free Library, on August 21st 1911, was a major event in the town and was suitably celebrated with a number of speeches. Entertainment was provided by John Amadio who played a number of flute pieces, accompanied by Mrs. Whalley on the pianoforte.  There were also recitals by Miss Elsie Berry and Mr. Sol Bloom.

The Governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller was the guest of honour, commenting that “...reading in itself was all very well, reading might be instructive, or it might be a pastime, or it might be actually harmful.”

The new library had five rooms, i.e. , the Magazine Room, the Newspaper Room, the Main Room (housing the book collections), a Meeting Room and a room probably designated for study purposes. A stand in the centre of the main room allowed the Librarian to overlook the library ensuring order. The “free” library had an immediate impact in the community, as 300 new members were registered in only the first three days of opening. In July 1985 the Northcote Library moved to new premises in Separation Street. The original Carnegie building was then converted to Council offices.

Biskup, Peter. (1994). Libraries in Australia. Centre for Information Studies, Sydney.

Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.

Darebin Libraries.  Local History File:  Northcote Library.

Northcote Leader 25 Feb 1911, p.4.

Northcote Leader 26th Aug. 1911, p.4.

Pezzutti, Dino. n.d. A historical report on the Northcote Public Library. Northcote.

Swift, William George (1928). The history of Northcote: From its first settlement to a city. Northcote, Vic: Leader Publishing.