This is the first of three 'Our History' articles to mark Launceston Library's 50th anniversary.
On October 8, 2021, the Launceston Library will celebrate the milestone of half-a-century in its current building.
The city has an enviable record for its local library and the staff who have maintained library services for more than 160 years.
In 1860 the Launceston Mechanics' Institute, the first public building in the town, was opened by its president, Dr Cornelius Casey, with great pomp. Apart from having a large hall for concerts and organ recitals, it had a library of 2400 books and a reading room that stocked British & American journals and current newspapers from all the Australian colonies.
The building was enlarged and renovated several times over its life to accommodate its growing library, becoming at one time the largest in Tasmania. Its fine collection, especially in the field of local history, was overseen by just three men: Alex Johnston (1860-1905), Joe Forward (1905-1948) and Walter Sutherland (1948-1970).
By the mid-1960s it was something of a rabbit warren inside: dark, dank, and not at all suited to the requirements of a modern library service.
Famously, after heavy rain its roof leaked, and staff had to paddle through its flooded basement to get to work.
In a very popular political move, the state government promised a new library. It was designed by the City Architect WL Clennett and built by Hinman, Wright & Manser.
Three weeks before an election, Premier Eric Reece unveiled a plaque on a rapidly built Besser block wall on April 23, 1969, celebrating the library's commencement.
This plaque is now to the left of the entrance to the current building.
The new library was to be a state-of-the-art facility and took years to plan and build. A fourth floor was even added during construction to ensure it would serve the region for years to come.
In all it cost $750,000 and as the mayor pointed out to ratepayers who complained of its extravagance, not a cent came from the municipality.
All the council supplied was the land.
Under the guidance of new City Librarian, Phil Leonard, the old library's entire stock was moved across in boxes, bags, trolleys and wheelbarrows over several months.
When the transfer was completed, the old Mechanics was knocked down.
The new Northern Regional Library (NRL) was opened on October 8, 1971, by the Governor-General Lord Casey, grandson of the President of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute in 1860.
Alderman Richard Green, the mayor, testified in his Valedictory Address to the dedication of staff who kept the library operating under such difficult circumstances, and Sir Peter Crisp of the State Library Board enthused about its capacity to provide 'a modern service.'
The NRL rejuvenated library services in Northern Tasmania. It had a lively, mostly young staff, spacious facilities with up-to-date equipment and a modern approach to librarianship with a focus on serving the community.
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