A couple of decades ago, nobody thought libraries would survive the internet. It seemed a widespread view that tapping on a touch-screen in the comfort of one’s home was the way we would enjoy books in the post-digital era. What the collective, misguided futurist in us missed is the fact that libraries are so much more than shelves of books easily replaceable by the latest iPad.
The appearance of digital technology has transformed the way information is created, stored, accessed and used. Nevertheless, that process hasn’t set back libraries at all. Quite the opposite – new information technology has accelerated their socio-cultural transformation, turning these traditional institutions into tech-savvy community centres, with memberships across NSW alone spanning over 3.3 million people.
With the role of modern libraries still firmly focused on sourcing, preserving and enabling access to physical collections, these masters of adaptability have also become significant drivers of innovation, digitalisation and interaction in their local communities.
The Post-Digital Library Space
With the popularisation of access to content through the internet, the physical aspect of information has taken a back seat – but not for libraries. Physical collections are still one of their most sought after resources and are an important aspect of modern libraries’ community-centre character.
“People still love having something that they can hold in their hands,“ says John Vallance, NSW State Librarian and Chief Executive. And the latest data proves it. It is true that the popularity of digital formats has been growing in recent years – however, out of the 40.2 million loans from NSW public libraries between 2017 and 2018, only 3.1 per cent were in ebook format.
This demonstrates library goers still prefer physical collections over their digitised versions and means that storing these precious resources is as important as ever. In keeping with the times, technological advancements – like motorised shelving units – now enable libraries to create optimal spaces for physical collections using the latest tech.
While storing physical collections is still crucial, modern library architecture also prioritises physical spaces that further embrace the role of library as a civic space and reflects wider needs of the post-digital society. With physical collections safely stored and easily accessible, space is opened up to foster connection, entertainment, inspiration, learning and interaction.
With relevance and experience of visitors top of mind, modern libraries provide calm spaces perfect for reading, working and studying, and – with the inclusion of digital media and virtual libraries within their physical spaces now standard practice – areas equipped with technology allowing visitors to watch, listen or experience various media formats. Proving their role as innovation drivers, many library spaces also encourage autonomous self-learning and process automation through self-service, creating an efficient, convenient and uninterrupted flow letting visitors explore, learn and experience at their own pace, and in line with their requirements.
Highlighting modern libraries’ role as local community centres are spaces that create an opportunity for a conversation, collaboration and connection with other visitors. In contrast to the more defined and smaller areas that encourage focus, the incorporation of mobile furnishings in the interactive spaces gives the more robust library spaces additional flexibility to rearrange as needed, fostering dynamism and interaction with surrounding space.
On top of that, many spatial solutions incorporate event spaces, restaurants and exhibition areas – lifting the architecture of contemporary libraries out of the outdated style of buildings designed around silence and minimal interaction. In NSW alone, between 2017 and 2018, 1.75 million people have attended 87,700 programs and events at their public libraries.
Boosting Further Innovation
Following a recent injection of $60 million of state Government funding, NSW libraries are even better positioned to foster innovation and lead the way in the socio-cultural transformation across Australia.
The boost has allowed for the NSW public libraries network to offer better support to diverse groups of community members, through the introduction of activities like English lessons, outreach programs for seniors, and study help for students.
Design continues to play a significant role in cementing libraries as successful community centres. Upgrade works and innovative facilities reflecting community-centred design principles have been imperative in improving the cultural, educational and social experience across the board.
The Makeover Of Lionel Bowen Library
One of the cornerstones of Sydney’s sought-after Maroubra neighbourhood, Lionel Bowen Library and Community Centre was recently upgraded to meet its community’s evolving requirements.
Recognising that Lionel Bowen is a space for learning, discovery and inspiration, the library’s facility has been elevated through the creation of two extra study rooms and additional group workspaces. Further recognition of the library’s role in the life of the community has been highlighted by the new lounging area where visitors can read and relax. At the same time, an all-new visitor-focused service desk makes everyone feel genuinely welcome.
Crowned with a contemporary colour palette, lighting fixtures and improved access to natural light through a series of smart spatial solutions, the library has transformed into a hub catering to the diverse needs of the population of the neighbourhood. And while the spatial decisions related to the addition of new study spaces or improvements to the welcome space have indeed lifted the library’s profile as a community hub, innovative thinking has penetrated the other areas of the buildings as well.
In recognition of the fact that storage and access to the invaluable collections and data continue being one of the most critical roles of the modern library in the post-digital age, the public space on level one also got a contemporary fit-out which included the replacement of old shelving units with a high-performance, innovative solution. Power-operated track rolling storage units by CSM were installed to ensure optimum conditions for the stored resources and maximises storage capacity per square meter, creating more space for staff and visitors.
Appreciating the autonomy offered to the visitors in the process of self-learning and drawing from extensive experience working with public spaces, CSM prioritised safety measures to ensure that visitors’ interactions with the rolling units are risk-free. The ramp gradient on the tracks is BCA and DDA compliant, while a photocell infrared beam eliminates any risk of objects, or people, becoming stuck in the unit.
Through the incorporation of community-centred design principles and the latest technology in its very own cultural transformation process, Lionel Bowen Library has gained a much-needed edge. Now, it leads by example of how a contemporary library can enrich the lives of the community by creating a modern space encouraging interaction and prioritising the protection of its valuable physical collections in a post-digital world.
Find out more with CSM.