Springwood library: push to extend opening hours

One of the surprises for some from the COVID-19 pandemic was how reliant a community can become on books.

Springwood's Turning Page Bookshop co-owner Annie Sharkey reported record sales during lockdown, "nearly doubling" trade on Mother's Day on the same period in 2019.

It's one of the reasons there's a unanimous push by Blue Mountains City Councillors to look into extending the hours at Springwood Library, so commuters get a chance for a bit of late night and Sunday browsing.

The library normally operates from 10am to 5.30pm weekdays and 9am to 4pm on Saturday. With COVID-19 restrictions hours have been cut, but they will be getting closer to normal from July 11. Usually the library also caters to commuter needs with a Book Express service two mornings a week at Springwood Railway Station from 6-8am and one morning at Katoomba. It costs $12,000 annually. It is currently closed.

Springwood's Library is scheduled for a massive redevelopment with a funding commitment of $2.5million as part of the City Deal Liveability funding program. It will close for eight months for the re-build from February next year. That's when the new hours will be properly considered.

Extending the library hours to give commuters better access is an idea floated by Independent Councillor Shae Foenander who asked for a report on the issue.

"There are so many more benefits [in extending the hours]," Cr Foenander said.

At the June council meeting, councillors heard two proposals in the staff report - to extend the operating hours one night a week to 7pm - and cancel Book Express to fund the idea; or to spend about $100,000 to increase library hours every weekday until 7pm and for four hours on Sunday. The report has recommended a full review over the next year of the operating hours.

On the "cost neutral" idea of removing the Book Express service, the report said "while the number of users of Book Express are not high, it is a very visible commuter service that is appreciated by those who use it (mainly to collect holds on items)." Book Express borrowings between 2014 and 2020 have ranged from 150 to nearly 400 items a month.

The community were consulted on opening hours before the Katoomba Library redevelopment in 2012. It saw the number of visitors double - from 400 to 800 visitors daily in the first year.

Cr Romola Hollywood said "We've learnt a lot from COVID-19 about the value of the library."

Councillors unanimously voted to receive another report prior to the opening of the re-developed Springwood Library to look at future opening hours.