Group eyes downtown library

Alisha Morrissey
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A group of interested citizens has begun working together to revitalize the idea of re-establishing a downtown library.

Jennifer Morgan, a member of the newly formed group called Friends of the Downtown Library, says the group has decided to build its mandate around a recommendation in a recently released public libraries report.

"We went around the table and people talked about how important libraries are," Morgan says, describing the discussion at the meeting Tuesday night.

A group of interested citizens has begun working together to revitalize the idea of re-establishing a downtown library.

Jennifer Morgan, a member of the newly formed group called Friends of the Downtown Library, says the group has decided to build its mandate around a recommendation in a recently released public libraries report.

"We went around the table and people talked about how important libraries are," Morgan says, describing the discussion at the meeting Tuesday night.

The report, which reviews public libraries in the province and specifically the capital city, suggests the ideal situation could be to close the A.C. Hunter Library and build a new 32,000-square-foot library closer to downtown.

Morgan says she has no desire to close libraries, but she wants to see a new downtown library that could also be used for other community purposes.

"Terms need to be redefined, like, what's a library? A lot of the ideas that we were bouncing around in that meeting and the last one, that a library be a public space - that's a place of meeting and participation and also combining perhaps the city's need for cultural space and studio space."

The A.C. Hunter Library wasn't designed to be a library, she says, and there are big problems with that facility, but she wouldn't see it closed.

"I think I can speak on behalf of the group on that what I'm feeling is a need for a building that is built designed for a library and for the modern use of a library," she says.

The meeting was called to see if there was any interest in taking up the cause and trying again to get a downtown library built.

There are three libraries in the capital city: the A.C. Hunter Library at the Arts and Culture Centre, Michael Donovan Library on Topsail Road and the Marjorie Mews Library on Highland Drive.

There have been several attempts in the past to re-establish a downtown library - at least three that Morgan is aware of - none of which has been successful. The most recent push for a downtown library to be built was in 2002, when a group of local writers and artists decided to test the waters.

In 2002, estimates for re-establishing a downtown library were in the range of $80,000-$100,000. The value in 2010 dollars hasn't yet been looked at.

The former Gosling library downtown closed in the late 1990s after 60 years in operation, starting in the former provincial museum on Duckworth Street and later moving to the city hall annex.

It was suggested the library be returned to the former museum building when the artifacts were moved to the new provincial museum in The Rooms.

That building is now being used as the provincial career work centre.

Talk about the potential for a downtown library has also been heard in council chambers, where most councillors agree there should be a library in downtown St. John's. Five city council members even attended Tuesday's meeting, but in public chambers several council members have been quick to point out libraries are the province's responsibility.

Morgan has no illusions about how long it could take to get a new library, but says the groundwork needs to be laid and partnerships need to be built.

"Everybody likes a library, and children's literacy is a big part of libraries, and I think there are a large number of individuals and groups who would be happy to fall in with a downtown library."

The group will meet again - hopefully with city libraries representatives - before the end of May, says Morgan. Interested parties can contact the committee at lancecove@ hotmail.com.

amorrissey@thetelegram.com

Organizations: A.C. Hunter Library, Downtown Library, Michael Donovan Library Marjorie Mews Library on Highland Drive

Geographic location: Topsail Road, Duckworth Street, The Rooms St. John's

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