Well, the ALIA 2012 conference is over and my resolutions of blogging each day were blown out of the water by the pace and intensity of the programme. Now a couple of weeks have gone by and it’s time to revise my notes, remember, recap and extract the best of what I’ve learned.
An early highlight was the pre conference tour of libraries in Sydney’s North. A coach load of 45-50 librarians met at noon at the Pitt Street entrance to the Hilton and taken to three newly opened libraries to hear how they were developed and see what we could learn from their experiences.
The first visit was to Ryde, where a bleak, dark 1970s library moved across the road to a light, bright, accessible space in a newly refurbished shopping centre.
Here was a library that is truly a third place. Accessible from the street and from the centre the library was warm, bright (a green carpet that couldn’t be changed led to a green and orange colour scheme) and inviting. Staff had worked closely with architect and project manager on the design. Much planning and training had also gone on ahead of the move to prepare staff for the very different style of operations the new library engendered. The collection was weeded and rearranged to be browse-able (discoverable?) in subject and genre themed “rooms”. The bookshelves were on castors and could be moved to create space for library events. I particularly loved the giant chess set and the grand piano – both of which (if I remember rightly) had been brought in temporarily for the opening festivities and kept as permanent features…
Our next visit was to Macquarie University where a brand new library building replaced a 70s brutalist structure. The new building is a sustainable building with a green roof, lighting that responds to the presence of people, recycled water for flushing the loos (because the water is brown they warn you not to keep flushing in the hope that the water will come clear!). Light wells to the lower levels were planted with bamboo, and our guide pointed out the toy gorilla that had been left in the thicket as a parting gift from the builders.
The intelligent heart of the building is its Automated Storage and Retrieval System. By using a four storey high robotic industrial racking system they were able to store 70% of their collection in stack, where it is instantly retrievable. 900,000 volumes are held, with room for double that number. They are shelved in metal tubs and identified by bar code so there is no need to shelve them in order. This has doubled the floor space available for student study areas, the two upper floors are all study area, with no collections and separate access so they can be opened when the other library services are closed. High use collections are on the lower two floors along with practice presentation booths fitted out with the same equipment as lecture theatres and tutorial rooms. Lots of powerpoints are available and the number of private study booths had to be increased due to student demand. A separate postgraduate study area was so popular that they had to change the access card system after access cards started turning up for sale on eBay!
We were mesmerised by the ASRS (with a touch of humour and humanity each robot crane had been named…) and only the promise of an excellent afternoon tea bribed us away from it. A brilliant solution to the problem of competing demands for space from collections and students but, I suspect, a very expensive one!
Our final visit was to Chatswood library. Here the library was part of a new (sustainable) community centre. I was particularly impressed by their Chinese OPAC which had a touchpad and stylus for searching using Chinese characters. If you want to know more about it you can read the full paper presented at the conference.
They also had a rather snazzy automated returns sorting system.
We then returned in our coach to Sydney heads spinning with what we had seen… Which is when I summed it up:
I want a sustainable library with a robotic stack retrieval and returns system; a Chinese OPAC; and a grand piano…