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.
find it on the Kingston library website because it’s an independent public
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.
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’
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
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:
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.