Gympie Library Pops Up in a bar

The week before Christmas 2018, Gympie Library closed unexpectedly due to ongoing construction work and the suspected discovery of asbestos in the floor of the history room. Staff and clients were evacuated from the library building and so began a journey that led to staff creating a Pop-Up Library in the bar of the Gympie Civic Centre.

Book shelving in the pop up library

In the first few days following the library’s unexpected closure, library staff moved to the Community Services building next door and accepted library books that the community were returning. Workplace Health and Safety subsequently closed the entire library site, with no access to the library building and an uncertain timeframe for re-entering.

Before Christmas, the library had received 5,000 books, DVDs and Magazines returned by borrowers and so between Christmas and New Year, staff worked to set up a Pop-Up Library in the bar at the nearby Civic Centre. It takes a village to create a Pop-Up Library in a bar, with staff from across Council working tirelessly to ensure that the library was operational from 2 January 2019.

Librarian pointing to reservation shelving

The Pop-Up Library demonstrated our team’s flexibility and adaptability as the library operated in a shared space with the Civic Centre. During the two months that the bar area was re-purposed and used as a library, our space continued to grow and evolve; the box office transformed into the library service area, we had one self-checkout machine, and a collection that quickly grew to over 13,000 items. While the library book stock was contained mainly in the bar, with DVDs and other AV in the entrance section of the foyer, it didn’t take long until we spread, slowly, inexorably, like a Stephen King nightmare, across the Civic Centre.

Home Library Service items were stored behind the bar. The public Wi-Fi area that began in the bar with the collection soon spread throughout the foyer areas across the Civic Centre. The mezzanine area became a staff work area – we even penetrated the downstairs catacombs of the building, where library staff were welcome to use the Green Room as a staff tearoom.

Patrons browsing the pop up library shelves

The Civic Centre’s gallery area was used for library storage and the theatre, meeting rooms and hall were all used for library programs, events, story-time sessions and tech savvy sessions. We even staged a Harry Potter night where staff re-created Platform 9 and three quarters and were able to “transport” children in the lift to the Hogwarts school. As if by magic, what had started out as a negative-sounding, enforced hiatus to a decidedly non-library setting had soon become a positive team-building and community-affirming exercise, which brought out the best in people and created a lasting sense of goodwill.

The whole project was positive proof that libraries really have no limits. We are constantly finding new ways to survive, provide, adapt and innovate, and to always serve as vital and vibrant hubs of information and activities for our communities. 

About the author

Rachel Lethem is the Community Learning and Engagement Manager at Gympie Regional Council.