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One for the books: Redhead library has a tale to tell

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Its history reads like a wartime battle; funded by the coal industry, officially opened by the minister for mines, shutdown without warning and, after a hard-fought battle, reopened and tended by its citizens.

Unlike its past, however, the Redhead Community Library continues to run with little to no drama, seeking the barest of funding and attention from its community.

At its meeting this month, Lake Macquarie City Council, the library’s landlord, approved six requests for annual donations and financial assistance, totalling $10,043.97, one of which was $1,800 for the library.

While the amount seems minimal, for committee president Maggie Lavercombe, the 13 volunteers and almost 2,000 members, the money equates to 100 new books – 32 more than they’ve been able to purchase in previous years.

“Each year we purchase approximately 68 books with the $1,000 the council gives us,” Ms Lavercombe said.

“This year, we asked for a little bit more, but it means we can get a few new releases.”

Ms Lavercombe has been volunteering at the little-known book hub, located on Hutchinson Street, for the past 15 years.

She joins a dozen other retirees keeping the beachside village locals, well-read.

The library, originally built by the Lake Macquarie Shire Council with financial assistance from the Joint Coal Board, was officially opened on 23 July 1958 by the then Minister for Mines, the Hon. J B Simpson.

Former librarian and Redhead resident of more than 50 years, Helen Ramplin, says the community facility was closed in 1986 without warning.

“It was closed on 31 December 1985,” she said. “I remember it because I was away on holidays at the time and none of us knew anything about it.

“It was completely without any warning.”

Ms Ramplin says that, rather than accept the decision, the Redhead community fought to have the central book hub reopened.

“We protested and we rallied and we weren’t going to back down,” she said. “That was June/July 1986.

“And, by about October 1986, they said: ‘You can run it yourselves then’ and we reopened.”

The library is now staffed solely by volunteers, each motivated by giving back to the community.

“I moved to Redhead 19 years ago when my husband got work here in Newcastle,” Committee Secretary Helen Carpenter says.

“I’ve been volunteering here since I retired almost three years ago.”

The quaint double-brick building, still donning original non-smoking stickers on sturdy wooden shelving structures, maintains its traditional hand-written and stamped card borrowing system. 

Despite receiving “a computer and internet” in 2019, the committee has chosen to maintain the authenticity of the borrowing system.

“It really is unique,” Ms Lavercombe said. “There’s nothing quite like our cozy little library.”

The Redhead Community Library is open three times a week, Thursdays and Fridays from 3pm to 5pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 12pm.

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