Today's ever evolving library
5 min read

Today’s ever evolving library

Kathryn recently joined Culture Counts’ Melbourne team as a Client Relationship Officer. Prior to joining, she worked for a major performing arts company across the operations, artistic, education and community outreach teams. She has also worked in different types of libraries, including the specialist library for the arts company, public and academic libraries. Today, she talks about libraries and their ever-changing role in today’s world.

The old stereotype that a library is a dark place with books that line the walls as far as the eye can see and librarians who insist on silence, is no longer. The public library in particular has evolved into a vibrant social hub that offers a variety of services. In the past few decades there has been a conscious shift for the library to become a “Place to Be” or a “Third Place”. With First Place being home, Second Place work or school, and Third Place a welcoming space where people are comfortable to just be, explore, imagine, think, learn, play, or reflect. As we’ve noted before, libraries play an integral social role within their communities.

Public Libraries are shifting their strategic agendas to ensure they meet the social, recreational, and educational needs of their communities and are adopting evaluation systems – such as Culture Counts – to help them measure and communicate their value. In recent library builds or refurbishments we are seeing the building intertwining a number of services for the community. For example, the library building will often house a training room for librarians to run digital inclusion classes, a café, some office spaces that are rented out on an affordability scheme to not for profit organisations in the community, a health centre, a preschool, a larger room that is used for various community events such as talks or performances, and of course the traditional library collection.

These new flexible spaces offer the opportunity for a wide range of activities. Here at Culture Counts we work with a wide variety of clients including libraries, local governments and arts and culture organisations. These flexible and welcoming spaces present an opportunity of collaboration between these organisation types. As an arts organisation have you thought about partnering with your local library? To not only use their knowledge resources to inspire and inform your artform, but to use the space to present and connect with the local community.

The other key area that libraries are evolving in is the format of the collection. Traditional fiction and non-fiction books, while still playing a key part in the collection, are often no longer the largest collection type. There is a large section devoted to children, with picture books, junior fiction, and even toy collections. Graphic novels are also increasingly common across all age groups. Libraries ensure there is inclusiveness for all members of their community and many will have a section for resources (books, newspapers, DVDs) in languages other than English that are prominent in the local area. Newspapers, magazines, DVDs and CDs, while are decreasing in some library collections, still often take up a large section of the collection.

Libraries are expanding to have knowledge collections and resources in more tangible forms.  For example, 3D printers, sewing machines, music studios, community gardens and even goats! A library in Colorado, USA has goats visit the library for petting and also pack goats so customers can learn how to properly pack a goat and take them through a small obstacle course. The most prominent collection development is the shift to a digital collection. Libraries subscribe to or share digital collections that allow members to access books, audiobooks, articles, movies, and music for free outside the library walls on their own personal devices. This helps libraries keep up with the digital society world that we are living in, and the constantly improving technologies. There are even bookless libraries emerging.

However, personally, I still feel that a library needs to have some physical books. A library with no books is almost as lonesome, morbid or drear as…well you know how the Slim Dusty song goes!

Click here to read more about how Culture Counts can help you demonstrate the value of your library.

About the author
Kathryn O'Brien was previously a Client Relationship Officer at Culture Counts.