Preston Free and Public Libraries

The first library services appeared in Preston in 1876 when William Braithwaite and E. A. Walker contributed some books towards the establishment of a library service. By 1900 Preston had three libraries operating within its boundaries; the School of Design and Free Library (with a stock of over 2,000 books), the Reading and Recreation Rooms in Clifton Grove and a smaller library operated by the Australian Natives Association.

There was much competition between the libraries and little inclination to forming a centralised library. However a committee lead by newspaperman John Whalley, Rev. Carson and others, managed to convince Preston Council to allocate rooms at the Preston Town Hall for a lending library and reading rooms. The first librarian appointed was Miss Mabel George. Although Council provided some limited funding, it required regular functions to pay the librarian’s wages and purchase books. A subscription charge of 1s and 6d per quarter also helped raised funds.

In 1908 Cr. Charles Warr, an ardent supporter of the library took over as President of the Library Committee. With funds raised by a variety of sources, including a novelty exhibition, a jumble fair, a sports carnival and a government grant of £250, Warr was able to begin the construction of a new library next door to the Preston Town Hall. At the same time the Northcote Council had successfully won a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Library to build a new library in Northcote.

The Preston community jibbed at their southern neighbours;

“Ha! ha! ha! he! he! he!
We didn’t write to Carnegie
We set to work with all our might
To pay our bills we’re here tonight!”

One thing the Preston residents did gloss over slightly is that their library service was a subscription service (customers paying a quarterly fee) whilst the Northcote library was completely free (this being Carnegie’s requirement for Northcote receiving their grant – which totalled a substantial £3,000). Preston did not gain a free library service until 1945.

In 1913 a billiards room was added to the library and after the First World War a second storey was added, this being the offices of the Returned Servicemen’s League for Preston.

The library service remained under the control and operation of the Library Committee until after 1945 when the City of Preston took over its operation. Funding now became part of the Council’s duties, although it depended upon the State Government for financial aid for this. The Returned Services League left the building and the library extended upwards. By now the building had been absorbed into the main Town Hall through a series of extensions.

By the 1950s it was evident that the existing building was no longer adequate to provide services to the community, although a library had been constructed in Reservoir. Despite this it was not until 1972 that construction started on the new Preston Library. On 15 August 1973 the new Preston library was opened by the Mayor, D. R. Atkins. The library cost $350,000 to build and occupies a site of 1.5 acres. The initial plan for the library would include a book stock of 50,000 items, later increasing to 100,000. The Preston Library was extensively remodelled in 2000.  

Forster, Harley W. (1968). Preston Lands and People. Melbourne: Cheshire.