Planning: New building, refurbishment or mobile?

Before starting the project, determine whether a library building or a mobile library is best for your community. Consider options for refurbishment and sites for a new building.

New building or refurbishment

A sign displaying the label "Library Museum" in front of a repurposed fire station building.
Camden Library and Museum

The choice of site may be influenced by the possibility of reusing or adapting an existing building. The prospect of utilising a refurbished building rather than a new facility may at first appear to be a more cost-effective option. However, the suitability of the building as a library can have a substantial impact on refurbishment and operational costs, and on the future functionality and services to be provided. If appropriate, reusing buildings has a substantial benefit in terms of environmentally sustainable design (ESD) as the embodied energy in constructing a new building is very significant.

Issues to consider:

  • heritage value of the building β€“ is it listed? Has it been assessed? A Statement of Heritage Significance or Conservation Management plan will be required for buildings of heritage significance which will guide how the building can be altered
  • prominence, transparency and equitable access
  • provision for mechanical and electrical services in existing buildings particularly those with heritage significance
  • contamination and asbestos
  • flexibility, adaptability and expansion capability for future modifications
  • fire upgrades and compliance with the National Construction Code. 
  • environmental performance, maintenance and running costs
  • cabling to accommodate local technology plan requirements
  • floor loading able to hold significant collection loads.

Mobile libraries

In NSW, mobile libraries play an important role in the delivery of library services to isolated and/or remote communities. In areas of low population density or to cater for specific users (such as rural schools, retirement villages, etc.) a mobile library service may be a good option. The needs of the community should be carefully considered, including population projections and variations, when choosing between starting or continuing a mobile service or opening a new library branch. Availability of other local community facilities, such as meeting rooms and social spaces should be part of the decision making process.

Mobile library truck with pictures of children and books
Richmond Upper Clarence Regional mobile library

Advantages of a mobile library:

  • provides a close-at-hand, convenient service, especially for the less mobile such as young children and older residents;
  • can effectively fill a gap between libraries and an isolated pocket of population for which a permanent building would be uneconomic
  • can provide an effective interim service in developing areas where the population does not yet justify a permanent site, or where a permanent site cannot yet be identified because development plans are not far enough advanced.

Disadvantages of a mobile library:

  • is not a cheap alternative to permanent buildings. The rate of depreciation is high, as are establishment and operating costs
  • can at best offer a one day a week service at any one location
  • has stocks which are typically small since the largest vehicle will only carry about 7,000 books
  • is unlikely to provide full library services including broad collections, events and programs
  • cannot provide ongoing access to library spaces such as meeting rooms, quiet reading and study areas and fully equipped technology spaces.

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