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New digs for the Caroline Chisholm Library!

11 June 2021

The Caroline Chisholm Library has been at Mitchell House in the CBD for many years. But rent has risen significantly in the last few years, and is by far our biggest cost. The Library Committee has been looking for new premises where we could continue our ministry while also freeing up funds for new ventures.

Through a recent happy (and, we believe, inspired) encounter between our Treasurer’s family and Fr Nicholas Pearce, newly appointed chaplain to the University of Melbourne and parish priest of S. Michael’s North Melbourne, Fr Nicholas learned of the Library's need. At that time, he was planning a Catholic Centre for the ground floor of his presbytery to support the work of Catholic chaplaincy at the University of Melbourne, and invited the Library to take up residence. Although not in the CBD, the building is in inner Melbourne, with at least some on-street parking, and is close to the 57 tram.

Work to shift the collection to North Melbourne has begun, but it will take several weeks more to complete the move out of Mitchell House. This work is being supported by a generous donation from the Archbishop's Charitable Fund, and by other benefactors.

Fr Nicholas' renovation of the Centre is beautiful – both sensitive to the architecture of a gracious Victorian residence, and also elegant and functional. He has offered the library the two front rooms, both elegant, freshly painted high-ceilinged Victoria rooms with secure windows onto the front garden, and has installed new shelves along a combined total of 6.5 metres of wall in one room, plus 6 metres of wall in the other room for shelves. This has the capacity for around 7,500 books, approximately 20% of our collection. In addition a third room at the rear, a sort of formal lounge, now houses a large part of our fiction collection. We have not filled all the shelves yet, but have made a respectable and attractive selection which already looks attractive on the new shelves.

We are working on securing a separate location for the balance of the collection. These volumes are still included in our online catalogue, and will be available on request at about a week's notice once we have properly housed them.

The fourth room has room for meetings of up to 30 people, but there is also an elegant dining table which can seat 12. Finally, there is an elegant wide entry hall, where there could be space for any good furnishings. There is space for existing Library groups to use, subject to other parish or chaplaincy use. Our current precious groups include the Theology Discussion Group, Icon School of S. Luke, and Catholic Book Club. We shall discuss with them their needs and how best to accommodate them into the future. The space is also available for occasional Library events outside usual hours, such as talks and book launches (subject to other parish or chaplaincy use).

There are also computer terminals, and the result is an elegant and fresh centre, for university students and for the Library. We currently plan for the Library desk to be open 11am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Thursday.

In summary, the offer and move of part of the collection to North Melbourne is a gracious offer of apostolic collaboration. It offers us a lifeline to survive, which we need. It also offers us a way to continue old apostolates – theology group, icon school, book club, book events – and to make new apostolic works with the university community, especially students, and the Catholic chaplain.

A very great deal of work has been done (and more is needed!) to select and pack books for display at North Melbourne. We have had some extraordinary work done, especially by Anna Krohn and Fr Nicholas Pearce, and a working bee of some of his university students. An enormous number of books were recorded, packed, moved and unpacked by eight people in one afternoon. We had a second working blitz planned for May, but restrictions prevented this. We are planning another session with Fr Nicholas and some seminarians, later this month. We will announce further working bees as they come up.