03 November, 2010


Chicago Public Library

The next stop on our tour was Chicago. This is a beautiful city that has undergone a renaissance over the last couple of decades. There is a wonderful waterfront onto Lake Michigan, and one of my favourite things is the new Gehry outdoor auditorium and the big silver jelly bean type sculptures with water parks in the same precinct. I have only been in Chicago in summer, and there was a real festive air in the city.

The Chicago Public Library is one of the major institutions in the city and with nearly 11 million volumes it is the largest library system in the Midwestern United States and one of the largest public library systems in the United States. The Chicago Public Libraries consist of 79 branches including the central library. In 1991, the Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago's new central library, named for the late mayor, opened to the public. It was the world's largest municipal public library at the time of its opening. Since 1994 the Chicago Public Library has been led by Commissioner Mary A. Dempsey who launched an aggressive rebuilding project, replacing or rehabilitating the majority of Chicago's neighborhood library branches. It has been the largest and most successful urban library expansion in recent history.

We also went on a River Tour by the Architectural Society and we visited Oak Park to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and went on a walking tour of the neighbourhood.

12 October, 2010

Seattle Library

Seattle City Library

The second city we visited on our US tour was Seattle, and for many of us it was our favourite place. The City has a good feeling about it and is set beautifully into Puget Sound.

The Library is just amazing, it has won a number of architectural prizes and is a real iconic building for the City.

Seattle Library has 26 branches and 1 Central Library. In 1998 Seattle voters approved a USD$196M bond measure to fund the “Libraries for All” building program. The program was delivered from 1998-2008 under the leadership of the then City Librarian Deborah L. Jacobs. It was one of the largest and most comprehensive library capital construction programs in the U.S. and included the renovation of 22 branches, the construction of 4 new branches plus the construction of the new Central Library.

The “Libraries for All” program is now complete and under the leadership of the new City Librarian Susan Hildreth, the Seattle Public Library is currently engaging the community to develop a new strategic direction.

The new library opened in 2004. It is double the size of the former Central Library built in the 1960’s on the same site.

Size: 412,000 sq ft; including 49,000 sq ft for parking.
Cost: USD$165M
Library bookstock: 1.4m items
Public Computers: 400

This bold and innovative building was designed by international award winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It is a contemporary steel structure cut like a diamond and wrapped in glass. Occupying a full city block the library is one of the city’s icons.

This library is built over 11 levels and is a series of asymmetric platforms positioned so as to transform a rather ordinary outlook into spectacular internal and external views with multiple vantage points. The library was awarded a silver LEED rating for sustainable environmental design and construction.

04 October, 2010

US Libraries

Back in June and July I was lucky to be able to tour some US libraries - some of the biggest and most beautiful in the country and indeed the world. Our group of 14 visited Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, Washington DC and New York.

Over the next few weeks I will share the highlights from each city we visited.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) system has over 6 million volumes and is one of the largest public library systems in the world. There are 72 branches and a beautiful Central Library that includes significant art works.

The library service was established in 1872 and had a vigorous growth during the 1920s. All branches have been refurbished over the past 15 years; these well managed programs (financed by 2 bonds) meant that there was budget for three extra branches to be built. Different architects have been used for all branches and all reflect their communities.

Los Angeles is going through what was described to us as the worst time financially the library has ever had. Prior to the current budgetary situation the usual opening hours for a Regional Library were 60 hours open week, and 40 hours per week for smaller branches. Over the past year opening hours have been reduced to 6 days per week (no Sundays) and following more budget cuts in the 2010/11 fiscal year will be reduced to 5 days; the average opening now is 40 hours per week. In order to minimise the impact of this, branches are being paired, with one branch open Monday –Friday; the other Tuesday –Saturday, with staff working between two branches.

Despite this, the library continues to provide much needed and valued services to an increasing number of people who use the library to improve their literacy, get assistance applying for jobs and providing a safe and secure place to spend time.

30 September, 2010

Beautiful Eltham

After a $1.25 million makeover, Eltham library reopened last Monday with a week of celebrations. The official opening was conducted by the Mayor of Nillumbik, Cr Ken King, the Minister for Local Government, Richard Wynn and the Chair of the Library Board, Cr Lewis Brock and local member for Eltham, Steve Herbert.

The new features of this iconic Greg Burgess designed building are a new children's room with an outdoor reading and activities garden, more room for teens with new pcs and a wii, and a dedicated local history area. There is also a state of the art automated book return that sorts items into bins to assist with easier and quicker shelving. A special addition is the replacement of the old circulation area with a reading lounge complete with a gas open fire to create a cosy and comfortable ambience.

Eltham is also now open 7 days a week - the 3rd library in the region to have 7 day a week opening.

One of the highlights of the week was the visit by international best selling author Matthew Reilly, who delighted over 150 people with his talk on how and why he writes what he does.

28 April, 2010

New Libraries in the West

Altona North Library

Last week I joined 60 or so other public library staff visiting 3 beautiful new libraries in the western suburbs. Point Cook and Altona North are brand new buildings, both real community hubs incorporating other council services; and St Albans has had a complete makeover and was packed to the rafters when we visited after school.

What these 3 libraries demonstrated was that in this age of digital information public libraries are still seen as vital community places and the 3 councils, Wyndham, Hobsons Bay and Brimbank are all investing heavily in providing these facilities to their communities.

What we saw were state of the art buildings, all incorporated self service and RFID, all had lots of screens and all were being very heavily used. It's a great time to be in public libraries!

19 April, 2010

Eltham Library redevelopment

The Eltham Library redevelopment is moving ahead, and today a wall went up inside the library to enable the builder to start internal works. The extension is starting to take shape and the photo shows the wall of the new children's library. The new library will feature more spaces to sit and read, more space for training and technology and more space for children, both inside and outside. It is going to be wonderful!

05 March, 2010

New model for libraries?

The future library on show in Abu Dhabi

A proto type library is on show at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair that heralds the likely future of public libraries in that country. The report explains

Abu Dhabi’s future libraries are likely to feature 24-hour, self-service facilities with vending machines stocked with books, CDs and DVDs, allowing people to take out and return them any time of the day or night... Books, CDs and DVDs will be available in vending machines using radio frequency identification technology.

This raises interesting questions about what people value in libraries. Is it just access to lending materials? Our industry research conducted in Victoria as part of the "Libraries Building Communities" showed that the value that libraries offer is much more than the collection. In any user survey it is always the "helpful friendly staff" that get the highest importance, and the wide range of programs and activities held in libraries that encourage learning and creativity are seen as just as important. The whole notion of libraries as third places (ie a place where you can be that is not work or home) is also embraced by many libraries.

Let's hope public library provision is never reduced to a few vending machines!

19 January, 2010

Are ebooks finally here?

When you start seeing articles everyday in the daily newspapers about ebooks you have to think that maybe the tipping point is coming soon. Today there is the announcement that Apple has invited journalists to a special event in San Francisco on January 27 which is expected to be the unveiling of the long awaited tablet computer. The new Apple is expected to be a colour, touchscreen tablet that can browse the web, display video and also serve as an electronic book and newspaper reader.

Reports are that Kindle was one of the most popular Christmas presents this year, and the ability to download books and newspapers wherever you are really simplifies the whole business of getting your content. One of my friends got one, and showed it to me last week. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the screen, the weight and size and also interested that it is not back lit. I remember the early versions of ebook readers, back in 2000, the Rocket in particular which was rather bulky and the very difficult time we had sourcing content for it for Brisbane libraries.

We are pleased that Overdrive, our supplier of online content, is enhancing their offerings too, and Windows Mobile® users – OverDrive Media Console for Windows Mobile is here! For more on this new release of OverDrive Media Console, click here. This allows you to directly download to your device, rather than the previous 2 step process.

The notion of all these functions converging on one device is full of possibilities, though I can't but wonder how many people will want to skype on their tv. But certainly the functionality promised by the new Apple tablet may well revolutionise the way we access ebooks and online content, the way that iPods revolutionised music. I can't wait to see one!

Did you get a Kindle for Christmas? We love you to tell us about it.