Thursday, 23 June 2022

Mentone Public Library - the Story of a Tiny Library in Mentone

Tucked away in the Melbourne suburb of Mentone is a library.

When I arrived in Australia to live, my first priority was to buy a home and the second to join my nearest library. The previous year when staying with my daughter, I'd seen a sign to Mentone Library but couldn't locate it! I searched on the Kingston website and found plenty of libraries including those at nearby Cheltenham and Parkdale but no mention of Mentone. I guessed it had been closed like so many of the libraries in my native UK. My then local library in North London had been drastically reduced in size and hundreds of others in UK closed in spite of over-whelming public protest. 

But once settled (and now a holder of a Kingston Libraries card) a little more investigation found I was wrong. Mentone Library was alive and well, albeit by now sleeping during Covid lockdowns.

You won’t find it on the Kingston library website because it’s an independent public library.

On 14th May 2022 it celebrated its 97th birthday. In its newly painted interior, a number of us gathered around its brand-new tables amidst the bookshelves lining the walls and read aloud short pieces of our writing. Some were published authors, others still dabbling and some yet to commit to calling themselves a writer; all were made welcome. 

Established in 1925­ – making it the longest surviving community library in Melbourne’s City of Kingston – Mentone Library has always been staffed entirely by volunteers. Not only lending books, the library’s mission is to encourage literary discussion, promote local authors and community events. Current plans include establishing a writers’ centre.

I learned about its history from the City of Kingston’s Local History website in an article by Grahame J Whitehead. Mentone had a library in 1890 consisting of three room in the Skating Rink with a selection of 300 books and newspapers. Later, the books transferred to an estate agency as the rink’s room closed in winter. Lack of council funding and support led the people of Mentone to set about raising funds to establish their own library building. To raise money, they held a garden fete to be opened by the governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller. He spoke of the importance of education and reading but, he warned, there were also many books, the trashy shilling shockers, which if read, left the reader worse for having read them. He hoped the good people of Mentone would avoid such nonsense. In spite of their endeavours the library closed down in 1924. Perhaps because those good people read too many shilling shockers.

A few months later a group of twenty-five people met with the aim of establishing a new library and on May 6th 1925 a temporary library opened in the rooms of the Rifle Range in Brindisi Street. It boasted 120 subscribers who could borrow any of their 550 books.

After the first ten years 175,000 books had been exchanged, with the stock now numbering 4,500.

The library moved home to a room in the council chambers in 1955, a time when the establishment of a new free municipal public library was under discussion eventually resulting in the library at Parkdale. The Mentone library was struggling and once again moved home, this time to a large container in the recreation ground. Another couple of moves found the library eventually settling into a room to the rear of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Florence Street in 1997 which is still its home today and where I made my first visit.

Today the shelves are packed with around 3,500 books bought with library funds and grants from Kingston City council, a great supporter of the library, and donations from members and other benefactors. From its inception as the only library in the area almost a hundred years ago Mentone Library is now sandwiched between well-stocked free public libraries so this little library needed to rethink its position. The committee is repurposing it as a writers’ centre and in keeping with that aim, its library stock will focus on books about the locale, whether histories, memoirs or fiction as well as books by local authors.

The volunteers kept events going during pandemic lockdowns by transferring to Zoom and they took advantage of the library’s closure to smarten it up but it remains a delightful combination of old and new.

The volunteers continue to be its life support as it is they who enable the library to open to the public. Currently this is for a two-hour slot from Monday to Friday10.00am-12.00 noon. More volunteers are needed to help expand the opening hours.

You may join as a member for $10 a year simply by applying at the library or emailing and bank transfer. If you’d like to receive the newsletter, email your request.

The committee is planning further events including open mic events and the library space will be available for hire for writerly endeavours, whether a short course or for a writing group’s regular meeting.

For more information and upcoming events see:

https://www.facebook.com/MPLWritersCentre

https://mentonepubliclibrary.blogspot.com/

Email: mentonepubliclibrary@gmail.com

MPL is to be found at the rear of the Information Bureau, 36 Florence Street, Mentone, Vic 3194. Plenty of parking in the Coles carpark adjacent. Walkable from Mentone Station.

 

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