Sunday 3 July 2011

Tour Time

Image source: (CC-BY-2.0)

Alas, for those cycle minded librarians out there, this is not a post about the Tour de France, which has just started (but speaking of, is anyone else gearing up for some late nights watching it?)
In fact, this post is all about visiting other libraries. Having worked in a library for many years now, and in various sorts of libraries, I still NEVER tire of going to check out the local public library or the State Library, whenever I’m visiting a new place. Heck, even if I’ve already been to a place, I often like to re-visit the library there, because there is usually a new exhibition that I’d like to see (particularly the state libraries).
There’s just so much to see and learn, by immersing yourself in what other libraries are doing. Even if you don’t get a behind-the-scenes tour of the library, there’s still a lot that you can learn by walking around and experiencing it as a user would. In fact, I think it’s beneficial to go out of your way to experience even your own library through the eyes of a user, because it gets you thinking about the user experience in different contexts- what are the positives about the user experience? What are some barriers to access? What could you change to improve things? How could you use that good idea in your own library context?
It’s all about bringing what you learn back to your own workplace, or if the library you visit has a different client group or different focus to yours, it may even help you crystallise why certain things work in some libraries contexts but perhaps not in others, or it could just be an awesome idea that makes you go ‘wow, that’s really cool’ and be proud of what your fellow library colleagues are achieving and doing.
I recently took a trip down to Melbourne, and high on my list of things to do, was to check out the Melbourne City Library.

Melbourne City LIbrary

The first thing I saw was the cafe that seemed like a lovely warm haven from the bitter cold Melbournian Winter’s day outside.
Melbourne City LIbrary

Wandering into the library, I discovered the magazine and newspaper reading area, prominently featured as soon as you walked into the Library. Here, I also found the travel guide section and the learn- a-language section, which is clearly one of the most popular sections of the Library (this hasn’t changed from my days working at a public library.) Great for travellers and the like, walking in to browse the travel books and current affairs magazines and newspapers:
Melbourne City LIbrary

I also discovered the English Learning Centre around the corner, which featured lots of resources on IELTS, learning English and the like. What a great service! This area was full of patrons doing self-study.

Melbourne City LIbrary

A wander further up the stairs to the mezzanine level revealed the CD/DVD collection, and the Playstation/Young Adult area- cool! I found a guy in a suit playing the Playstation, so clearly not just a drawcard for teens! 
Playstation area:

Melbourne City LIbrary

I also noticed that there was a lot of space available- different configuration of individual tables, and larger tables scattered around the library and in separate rooms. I didn’t notice a lot of powerpoints for laptops, but there were a lot of people plugged in, with laptops, so lack of powerpoints clearly wasn’t an issue.
I still hadn’t even gotten to the other library collections yet! These, I discovered upstairs on level one, next to the gallery space and piano. How cool is that?  I was enchanted with the sign on the piano that invited people to book to use the piano at various times of the day. A polite note advised everyone along the lines that Chopsticks was not considered soothing nor relaxing music for other library patrons, which I found amusing. There was no-one playing while I was there, but my research for this blog post revealed a story of a homeless lady who often comes in to play concertos on the piano. You can read about her story here
Melbourne City LIbrary

Melbourne City LIbrary

A walk through the collection showed shelves of recently returned books- YES! In a similar way to Jennifer Byrne from the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC, I (and I suspect many others) LOVE having a sticky at what others have just returned. You can read about why Jennifer Byrne loves the library in other ways in last month’s issue of InCite. I wonder how long the books stay there until they get shelved?
Speaking of, I saw a veritable army (not quite) of funkily-dressed, young, hip people in amongst the shelves, shelving books with a friendly smile as I walked past. Very cool. The lovely and friendly service was something else that I noticed at the library- by a mere hovering near the Information desk, I was served immediately, by a friendly and efficient staff member, when I enquired about the free Internet available (it’s available to anyone who has a Victorian residential address, as long as they sign up for Library membership.) There are also temporary computer user memberships which allow visitors to access the Internet.  Membership is also free to anyone who reside in the state of Victoria. I was very impressed with this- many public libraries in NSW have rules for who can join, depending on where you live. If you live out of the council area, you sometimes have to pay to join.
Melbourne City LIbrary

I also saw lots of different spaces- spaces for group study, different rooms for different purposes eg computer rooms, even a room with a DVD player that you could book to watch movies in. I also noted a large collection of other language books-my Mum would be impressed with the collection of Chinese books available.
On my way out, I also noticed a ‘Hot Picks’ stand of the most popular titles, a short loan collection which had a one week loan period, in order to maximise the number of people accessing the resources. Again, a shelf that I would love to frequent, given the opportunity!
'Hot picks' shelf:
Melbourne City LIbrary

All in all, I had a wonderful experience visiting the Melbourne City Library, and I thought the library design was very well thought out- clearly the needs of library users were taken into consideration when designing this library, in particular with regards to the prominently displayed high use collections, a high emphasis on access to resources for lots of different user groups in the community, as well as excellent client service -all wonderful aspects about a modern day library that is clearly doing well in these areas.
What libraries have you visited in your travels? What's on your must-visit library wish list? As an avid lover of libraries, I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please add your thoughts in the comments below!
Crystal Choi is a member of ALIA Sydney. She is an academic librarian and tweets @crystalibrary

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