The People of Toorak/South Yarra Library

Published on 20 October 2023

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The People of Toorak/South Yarra Library is a series of community stories collected in celebration and commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the library.

Nine portraits were taken on Saturday 19 August 2023 as part of a weekend of 50th anniversary celebrations. 

Library members Clare, Jack, Beatrix, and Winifred

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Pictured (left to right): Beatrix, Clare, Winifred and Jack

Clare first visited Toorak/South Yarra Library in 1988 while on holiday. She was just 6 years old – the same age her youngest daughter, Winifred, is now. Architect John Holland was a dear family friend and insisted that they visit the library. She is as enamoured with it now as she was all those years ago and is thrilled to pass that love on to her two daughters.
“It's really amazing to bring my own children here, to have it be such a part of our family’s ongoing history. I’ve been bringing Beatrix since she was one year old, attending weekly storytimes. Now she comes in asking for World War 2 books, and the librarians never flinch at her requests. It’s lovely to see them treat her with such respect and integrity at such a young age.”

Jack grew up in St Kilda and visited Toorak/South Yarra Library many times over the years. As the son of an architect, he appreciates the magnificence of the library as an example of public architecture and public space: “You can see it’s always being used – you’ve got study spaces, Lego Club, reading groups. It’s a real genuine community hub. It’s a lovely space and exactly what a library should be.”

Library leaders, past and present

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Pictured (left to right): Charlotte, Andrew, Chris, Dianne, Anne, Natasha

 Our library leaders have, over the past 50 years, led many innovative projects to meet the changing needs of our community while honouring the presence of this iconic library.

They have overseen major infrastructure upgrades, the conversion of card catalogues to online databases, the introduction and development of community development programs in literacy and technology, and many more.

They, and all our staff, make Toorak/South Yarra Library a community hub, co-working and study space, a reading room, a classroom, a performance space, a meeting place, and so much more.

Chris, Librarian in Charge at Toorak/South Yarra Library, 1981 - 1988

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Fresh out of uni, Chris managed the Toorak/South Yarra Library during a time of great innovation and change.

“We had a great partnership with Toorak College, which brought Apple computers into the library and enabled us to provide computer classes to the community. We also had a pop-up café, which was quite unheard of and a bit controversial at the time, when eating and drinking in the library was a big no-no. We introduced automation into the library. This was a major project that launched my future career. I got my start in this library and really enjoyed my time here.”

Staff member Nick and daughter Nina

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Nick has worked for Stonnington Libraries since 2005 and Toorak/South Yarra Library was his local library growing up.

“I used to come to this library as a small child. My parents had a shop in Prahran, and this was our closest local library. My earliest memories were from the age of about 4, looking through the card catalogue and reading books on the bright red carpet. It was the start of my love affair with libraries and books.

It felt so special to be able to choose my own books and carry the responsibility of taking them home and looking after them. I've had my own family since then and they love libraries too. The kids have always gone to the library, loved borrowing their own books. I just think, libraries are wonderful, wonderful places.

I’ve worked here for more than 15 years, and it’s great to see it has the same things it offered me as a child, but with so much more. And I’ve made so many great friends working here and met lots of great people.

I love first thing in the morning when you get here and the sun's coming in through the eastern windows. To see this building still here after all these years, and to have worked here has been fantastic.”

Read Now Book Club

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Pictured (left to right): Janet, Jenni, Diane, Emma, Catherine

The Read Now Book Club meets monthly to discuss books selected by our librarians. Titles read in 2023 include Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry and Search History by Amy Taylor.

Club members think the Toorak/South Yarra Library is a lovely space to meet, relax and chat about their reading.

Formed online during Covid, the club now convenes at the Toorak/South Yarra Library. While members have come and gone, they have established ongoing friendships and use the club time to both discuss the book they’re reading as well as share bits of their personal lives. It’s a warm, friendly group who love to chat and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

Library member Zoe

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Growing up, Zoe loved reading and hungered for books. The trips to Toorak/South Yarra Library were special because this was her Gran’s local library. On weekends and during school holidays, they would go out for lunch, then head to the library.

“It was a really nice activity to do together. Sometimes we browsed together and sometimes we would browse separately. But even though we might be in separate parts of the library, it was something we enjoyed sharing. The library was a godsend for my Gran during COVID because she could take advantage of the home delivery service and could chat to the librarians about what she liked reading, and they would suggest different books that they thought she might like. They were spot on every time.”

Toorak/South Yarra Library Staff

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The current Toorak/South Yarra Library team share their thoughts on why they love working in this library.

Team Leader, Charlotte: “I value being able to assist our diverse community with equitable access to information and technology and that everyone gets to enjoy the library as a space that suits their individual needs.”

Library Assistant, Silvia: “I get to interact with people from all over the world.  It is also a great place to work because of its lovely outlook over the trees.”

Library Assistant, Andrew: “I love helping the patrons fully utilise the resources the library offers and enjoy the camaraderie of my colleagues.”

Information Services Librarian, Emma: “I love working in this library because we all work together to make it a welcoming space for everyone”.

Youth Services Librarian, Julie: “I love working here because of the special friendships and relationships I have formed with children/youth and their families over the years. Past storytime parents share with me how much their child enjoyed coming to storytime and fill me in on their child’s progress and triumphs.” 

Library member Nick

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Toorak/South Yarra Library was Nick’s local library when he first moved to Melbourne from Queensland.

“I used to live down the road in a share house, and this library was a place for me to come find space to read, or chill out, but mostly to work. Because I'm a freelancer, it's nice to have a place that's dedicated to getting particular jobs done, to get out of the four walls of my house, get out of my head and find peace. When I come here I have a purpose.”

“And it's such a lovely community here, seeing all the different types of people that come through. I was telling someone about coming to the library today, and they said, ‘library people are the most wholesome people, aren't they?’. And I think that's very true.”

Chatty Café

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Pictured (left to right): Jenny, Jen, Linda

Every Saturday at 11am, volunteer Jen leads the Chatty Café at Toorak/South Yarra Library. Chatty Café is a friendly and welcoming group of community members keen to connect socially and chat. The group is open to anyone and no bookings are required. 

The Chatty Café Scheme Australia, a Health promotion and Harm reduction charity, encourages all sorts of hospitality, including libraries, to provide a shared Chatty table where customers can sit if they are happy to talk to other customers and “Have a Chat”.

We asked the community why they loved Toorak/South Yarra Library. Here are some of their responses.

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