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University of Wollongong Australia

History of the Library: Building a better library

An archive of the historical milestones reached by UOW Library since 1972 in words and pictures


The case for an extension was clear. Points made in a submission, Scholarly Spaces in 2003 included:

  • Student numbers had increased from 7,964 in 1988 to 20,519 in 2003
  • Simply finding a seat had become difficult in busy periods
  • Queues for computers had grown ever longer
  • Collection space was at capacity in most areas of the building
  • Facilities were inadequate to support the changed ways in which students work
  • Purpose-built labs were needed to support hands-on teaching of information literacy

The project was approved for commencement in late 2005.

Key aims reflected the pressing need for more study places, collection space and improved computer access. The opportunity was taken, however, to achieve a number of other long-held goals:

  • A lighter, more transparent, welcoming entrance
  • A large foyer to improve traffic flow
  • Flexible spaces to accommodate future changes, recognising that for the foreseeable future the building will house a hybrid library, blending print and digital resources
  • Wireless and wired modes of computer access to support preferred access modes such as laptops and PDAs
  • Attractive and comfortable physical surroundings to support research and teaching and learning
  • Redesign of service points and key process areas for improved efficiency
  • Relocation of as many staff as possible previously housed on the ground floor to a common staff area supportive of teamwork

Project goals also aimed to cause the minimum disruption to building users and to keep the community informed of changes which were numerous as collections moved, stairways closed, and entrances relocated. Ear plugs were made available during noisy periods and staff were proactive in helping find quieter areas.

A further objective was to complete the project within the agreed budget and specified time frame. The building was in fact completed earlier than scheduled and budget variations were kept to a minimum.


2004 Capital funding approved for 2006
Dec 2005 Appointment of Graham Bell Bowman Architects
Oct 2006 Contract awarded to OneBuild Constructions
Nov 2006 Stage 1 – External demolition and construction begins. Access tunnel constructed
Feb 2007

Stage 2 – Link to Student labs in ITS building completed

External facade, stairwells and internal construction on Levels 1 and 2

Oct 2007 Stage 3 – Services move to new location, demolition and rebuild of old foyer, refurbish existing interiors. External paving and finishes, demolish tunnel
Feb 2008 Completion

Stage 1 - 1972

Seats: 280
Floor space: 4,000m2
Collection: 69,721
Journal subscriptions: 251
Loans: 66,933
College Librarian: Jeffrey Hazell
Library staff: 16
UOW staff: 94 academic staff
Students: 1,445

The original three-story Library building was colloquially known as The Bunker. The Reader Services Department – the equivalent of today's Information and Research Services Team – was based here, whilst Acquisitions and Cataloguing remained in the Library Annex of Building 8.

Stage 2 - 1976

Seats: 530
Floor space: 5,700m2
Collection: 110,940
Journal subscriptions: 2,552
Loans: 101,685
University Librarian: Jeffrey Hazell
Library staff: 46
UOW staff: 664
Students: 2,268

Stage 2 saw the extension of all levels to the south and the addition of the first floor balcony. The entrance faced onto the Central Square, which would later become the Duckpond.

In 1981 the building was named to recognise the founding Vice-Chancellor of the University, Michael Birt.

Stage 3 - 1988

Seats: 700
Floor space: 10,400m2
Collection: 385,483
Journal subscriptions: 3,709
Loans: 291,036
University Librarian: John Shipp
Library staff: 61
UOW staff: 1,143
Students: 7,964

Floor space was doubled during Stage 3, through an extension to the western side of the building. This involved significant internal changes and reconfiguration of collections. The lead-light Australian Birds Series was installed in the new entryway, bringing light and colour to the front of the Library.

Stage 4

Reorienting the entrance and service points from east to north meant extensive preparation and relocation work for Library staff intent on maintaining optimal services and access during the construction period.

  • 7,488 low-use journal volumes and 70 study carrels moved to offsite storage
  • 8,500 reference collection items and 1,000 kits and audiovisual items weeded and integrated with lending collection
  • Reorganisation of complete journal collection on Level 2 (184,200 volumes)
  • Weeding, move and reorganisation of large compactus on Level 2 and relocation of 2,700 items in thesis compactus on Ground Level
  • Re-shelving of monograph collection to provide space for Link with Student Central Computing Laboratories (499,000 volumes)
  • Re-organisation of Archives and weeding of outdated University records
  • Special Collections moved to temporary location
  • Rearrangement of Law Collection
  • Staff work spaces rearranged and refurbished. Information and Research Services Team (18 staff) and Lending and E-readings Team (11 staff) moved to main staff area
  • Rearrangement of Archives office and Rare Books Room
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It will come as no surprise to learn that a good deal of building materials were needed in our construction. Overall we used:

  • 110 tonnes of structural steel
  • 28 tonnes of reinforcing steel
  • 530 cubic metres of concrete
  • 1,850 square metres of glazing

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