November 22, 2017

On the Road: Inspired by life in Australia’s libraries | Editorial

RebeccaWebEdit2015I wrote this in a small library in the town of Kyneton, Australia. As many library fans do, I visit libraries wherever I go—stopping in for a look-see, lingering to use the space and services, and sometimes getting a full tour. It’s always valuable—and often inspiring. This was the case when I recently visited Australia on a family trip, and I experienced a handful of libraries small and large along the way.

Each was busy, several intensely so, and space design enabled the delivery of a diversity of services. The majority of the spaces were up-to-date, with daylight captured by transparent glass walls and open, flexible floor plans. I am grateful for the generous and expert conversations I had with staff.

The morning I was at the gorgeous little Thirroul District Community Centre & Library in a small coastal town just south of Sydney, the single-story L-shaped room was practically vibrating with babies and toddlers at dual story times taking place across the space from each other (talk about maximizing square footage!). Far from unpleasant, as a visual check confirmed of the many adults reading and working throughout, it enlivened the space, even after the crowd dispersed. This library, tucked dreamily under the arc of a large native fig tree, was designed to share a facility with and complement the services of the neighborhood center, complete with café, creating a hub in the heart of town. Among the appealing elements are several murals, including a stunning six-panel “digital drawing” by Greer Taylor depicting the universe and our place in it over time.

The deliberation inherent in that choice of art is also evident at the nearby Wollongong City Library, which serves as the central facility for the seven libraries in the district, including Thirroul. There, a high level of service, shown to me by Tanya Leonardi, client services coordinator, is matched by a sense of fun exemplified by the fourth annual Comic Gong festival, which drew some 7,000 participants this year. (Mark your calendars for May 13, 2017.)

Entrance to Double Bay Library

Entrance to Double Bay Library

I also made a point to see the new Double Bay Library in suburban Sydney, which had caught my eye in news coverage back home for its flipping of the garden concept—designing a living garden inside the building as homage to the former location in a park. People are greeted by a green wall beyond a service kiosk at the entrance and drawn into a space that evolves as it winds up three floors in what is now an anchor to an urban renewal project in the commercial district. Service had to evolve, too, as the new library more than quadrupled the former’s size with no additional staff—enter roving reference, and much more self-service, to pull it off. According to research team leader Denise Syme, who gave me a tour with collection development librarian Fiona Johnston, the new space helped support the delivery of a fresh approach to service, as did much staff training.

There is a lot of wow here. Among the fun features, a broad staircase does double duty as amphitheater seating (with the Olympics playing on a large drop-down screen when I was there). A hatch door in the staircase wall, opened during planned times, lets kids access a slide that winds down into the children’s space. Such levity paired with smart space use creates a place to visit and stay.

In Kyneton, just northwest of Melbourne, the one-room library looks out onto a small play yard through large glass windows that let in streams of winter light, providing me and a handful of others with work and reading space and caregivers with a sun-filled reading zone beyond a buffer wall of shelving. I was impressed by how much happens in this tiny area, and being there reinforced my faith in just how critical libraries are—no matter their size.

As this column went to press, a number of libraries in the region were still a treat in store for me. Among the choices, the much-heralded Geelong Library and Heritage Centre in Melbourne, short-listed for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Public Library of the Year Award, was on the top of the list.

As I reflect on these experiences, I am invigorated by having witnessed so many strong libraries while on the road, enriched by their example, and excited to share some of what I liked in these fine facilities with our robust global library community.

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This article was published in Library Journal's September 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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  1. Larry Whitman says:

    ˙ʇsǝq ǝɥʇ ǝɹɐ sǝıɹɐɹqıן uɐıןɐɹʇsnɐ

  2. Loved your story and your insights, Rebecca. Greetings from another librarian in Australia, come again soon : )