17 September, 2009

Philadelphia libraries closing

Free Public Library of Philadelphia Central Library

This is the sort of news that no one expects to hear - as reported on the Free Library of Philadelphia's website

All Free Library of Philadelphia Branch, Regional and Central Libraries Closed Effective Close of Business October 2, 2009

We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries,regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2,2009.

This is not some small rural library system, it is a major library with 54 branches and a collection of over 6 million items that has been established since 1892.

The Wikipedia article on the library says:

Among the Free Library's exemplary collections is the Print and Picture Collection. Spanning the graphic arts from 1493 to the present time, the Free Library's Fine Art Prints and Photographs collection includes thousands of images. Initially representing only Philadelphia artists, the collection has been extended to include early masters as well as renowned modern printmakers and photographers. You can view prints by such artists as Dürer, Rembrandt, Warhol and Dali. Some of the photographers include Ansel Adams, Bernice Abbott,Ray Metzker, Eadweard Muybridge and Aaron Siskind.

In May Siobhan Reardon, President and Director of the library addressed the City Council on the impact of budget cuts and said:

While some may think of the library as an institution that simply lends books, we are in fact a multi-disciplinary, cradle-to-grave institution that serves teens, entrepreneurs, older adults, new immigrants, job seekers, young children, and employers, among so many others. And, as the economy declines and unemployment rises, we are seeing increased demand for our services. Two areas – employment support and drop-out prevention – are of particular importance in these times.

Obviously, this testimony about the vital and highly valued services offered by the library did not have the required result. Having undergone already significant cuts in the past year, the Library Board and Director decided that there was no longer sufficient funding to keep their doors open. Let us hope that the various levels of government step in to stop this major library service closing.

07 September, 2009

The future of libraries

Games corner, Lalor library

CNN has reported that "The stereotypical library is dying -- and its taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it."

Well, I don't think that Yarra Plenty was ever a stereotypical library by that definition, but even so, there is no doubt that our world is changing and as the world goes digital and libraries are undergoing complete transformations.

The article quotes Helene Blowers, from Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio (where two of our staff are heading on Wednesday for a job exchange.) She says that "The library building isn't a warehouse for books, it's a community gathering center."

Another person quoted is Rolf Hapel from Aarhus Library in Denmark who says "The library has never been just about books." In Aarhus they are have an exciting array of digital objects and discovery areas that illustrate how people can and will access information.

At Yarra Plenty we have introduced a number of initiatives to broaden the appeal of libraries as well as future proofing ourselves. Most branches now have video game consoles available and there has been a general decrease in the collection as the need for more technology means we need to make decisions about how we use our precious space. The Eltham Library redevelopment will take this a step further with its learning lounge, reading lounge and new children's library that will be more about space for programs and activities and reading space than about books. And the implementation of our RFID system and self service has freed up staff to deliver more programs and activities - we saw a 20% increase in attendance last year. We are just completing our Annual Report and the range and depth of the programs that are run shows what a modern library can do to promote informal learning and encourage a love of reading.

What we are doing is redefining the role of public libraries and ensuring that the traditional values that have ensured the importance of libraries are not lost in a digital age.