In April 1874 Gerringong Council voted to establish a free library in Gerringong since the one in Kiama, which had been established 2 years earlier, was not accessible for many Gerringong residents.
A book committee was then appointed to obtain the first instalment of books for the library. The Mutual Improvement Society of Gerringong owned about £12 worth of books which they gave to the library to form the nucleus of the proposed library. A government grant of a further £200 was obtained to purchase suitable books to add to the collection.
By the beginning of November 1874 the library had began operations. Initially the collection was housed in a room in Mrs Scott’s general store on Fern Street, with Mrs Scott receiving £14 a year for her librarian duties and the use of her room. At first the library had no rules resulting in books not being returned and some patrons expecting access to the library at irregular hours, once at 11 o’clock at night! This was soon remedied with the establishment of borrowing periods and opening hours.
The Kiama Independent of 5 August 1875 stated that, “The free library is taken advantage of by a considerable number; but the class of books most in request are the lighter of the fictitious and pictorial works-a pastime, or something to amuse the "chilthor." Philosophical, historical, or scientific works are but very sparingly read; many of the books in circulation have been disgracefully treated, and it requires all the vigilance of the librarian to endorse the by-laws. The library is, however, felt to be a great boon in the present dearth of public entertainment or instruction and I doubt not that when the Municipal Council has met its present liabilities it will supplement this boon by the erection of a suitable public building.”
By 1876 Gerringong Library was one of 18 free libraries that had been established in the colony of NSW. The library had a collection of 429 volumes, with 831 library users over a 6 month period. The amount of money spent on books was considerable in terms of the council’s total budget.
In 1877 Gerringong Council erected a council chamber in Fern Street and offered Mrs Scott free use and occupation of the premises for the library and reading room. This arrangement proved satisfactory for both sides until amended in 1891 to have Mrs Scott pay some rent. It was noted at this time that the librarian’s duties were very light as records showed that borrowers themselves made the entries for taking out and returning books.
Around this time a complaint appeared in the Kiama Independent concerning the poor condition of some of the library’s books. The amusing response that appeared the following week stated that, ”paperbacks cannot be used in hot weather, and when there is a westerly wind blowing, the backs break off.”
The existing library hours were deemed unsuitable for working men so in 1893 the library began opening from 7 to 9 o’clock one night a week.
A report in 1930 stated that the library held well over a thousand books as well as a good children’s section. From 1930 to 1959 Robert (Bob) Walker was the librarian.
In 1950 the library was moved to the newly built Gerringong Town Hall where it currently is still located.
The library had been the responsibility of the Gerringong Literary Institute since its inauguration in April 1922, but since the Institute was only functioning under an executive and was finding difficulties managing financially, Council proposed adoption of the Library Act and the setting up of a Public Library. There were many advantages to belonging to a state-wide system of libraries, including bulk loans of 300 to 400 books that were changed every 3 months. The existing Literary Institute Library formed the nucleus of this new library which opened in May 1952.
Since 1959 Gerringong Library has been managed by Kiama Council and is a branch of Kiama Library.
As the Gerringong township has grown over the decades, Kiama Council is investing in a new expanded building which is planned to be constructed in the near future.
The Kiama Independent – 1874 to present
Trove - National Library scanned newspapers etc
The Story of Gerringong Free Library, Dr Jill Miller, Gerringong-Gerroa Village Whispers Dec/Jan 2014/15, p21
An image gallery of Gerringong is available.