Woden Library opens a new chapter


A dance hall, music recording studio, kitchen, and business meeting space – in a library? You might be as incredulous as Lady Bracknell, if you will – but on the musty days of back trouble Punch and stern librarians telling readers of “Shhh! Are long gone. The Modern Library, says Vanessa Little, executive director of Libraries ACT, is a community hub and community lounge.

“It’s really a 21st century, she said. “Libraries these days are moving towards these kinds of community facilities. While books are still very important, and we’ll always have plenty of them, we’re mixing that up with other activities. “

And the renovated Woden Library is one example. Upstairs, where the Heritage Library was located before moving to Fyshwick, you will now find ‘The Hive’ (a digital hub, complete with a recording studio, podcasting equipment and green screen tools), “The Gathering Space” (a meeting space for community groups and collaboration), “The Life Lab” (a flexible space for learning, speeches, yoga and dance) and “The Haven” (for relaxation quiet, study and reading).

On the ground floor there are two new meeting rooms and a kitchen that the community can use after hours.

“Libraries aren’t just about borrowing books, studies or research,” said Chris Steel, ACT Minister of Municipal Services. “Woden will have the community facilities it needs as it grows. “

Book club members can discuss the choice of the month over a cup of coffee; local bands can record their first hit single; and residents can splash around in clay or watercolor, gallop on library shelves and tango the aisles, cook up a storm or tie themselves in human pretzels during a yoga class. (Although not all at the same time.)

“A wide variety of activities in community spaces designed by the community,” said Mr. Steel.

But Woden is also ACT’s most popular library – and traditional activities like reading are booming. When the branch reopened last week after the lockdown, 7,000 requested items were waiting to be picked up; staff spent two days building shelves to accommodate them.

“There is still a lot of demand in this city for the hard copy,” said Little.

Vanessa Little, Executive Branch Director of ACT Libraries, and Chris Steel, ACT Minister of Municipal Services, in one of the new spaces at Woden Library. Photo provided.

The ACT Libraries Collection has over half a million items – 507,000 physical items (including in the Heritage Library) and 61,000 digital items. This does not include digital subscriptions to Freegal (music) or Kanopy (movies and documentaries) streaming services. 63% of loans are physical and 37% digital.

Even a decade from now, Little expects much of the collection to still be in “hard copy” form; she cannot see more than half of the electronic collection over the next few years.

“Libraries are places of ideas, information, literacy… The fundamentals of libraries have not changed; the way we deliver it changes.

Art books or books with beautiful photographs will always look better on paper, and families don’t want to lose the joy of sitting down and reading a book with their children, Little said.

Electronic loans are growing, however; By the end of this year, libraries will have made 875,000 electronic loans, 26% more than last year and 67% more than in 2019.

But that, of course, may be due to COVID. Libraries were closed during the lockdown; Readers’ choice, says Little, was to read all the books they had under their beds or to borrow e-books.

A telephone hotline has helped the non-tech savvy download e-books and e-audiobooks. But every month the library delivered a ‘mystery box’ – a Masefieldian B. delights rather than a Stevensonian Bad B. – 10 articles in a genre of the reader’s choice. It was a way for the Canberrans to stay at home and always have library materials.

The library expected him to be popular with older Canberrans; in fact, Ms Little said, it was taken over overwhelmingly by young families: people who were short on time and wanted their children to read a lot of different books and appreciated being able to borrow rather than buy.

Young families are among the most enthusiastic users of the library; adolescents and retirees are too. But people in their twenties and thirties don’t read as much as they used to; they’re too busy building a career and traveling the world. And older families often stop using the library as their children grow up and become more independent.

The new Woden Library facilities are designed to appeal to these two lost age groups. The podcasting studio should appeal to “digital natives”; the Life Lab for people in their late twenties and thirties. (The library will also use these facilities for programs they hope will attract more people, such as podcasts by local authors.)

When community groups come in, staff will be on hand to talk about what else the library has to offer. Some people don’t know they can borrow magazines, DVDs or audiobooks, as well as books; the library displays them prominently on the front.

The new facilities were suggested by the public in 2019, and the government believes this is what libraries of the future could look like. Libraries ACT is asking the public to help them design libraries suitable for 2030.

So far, said Ms Little, the public wants to keep traditional reading, books and quiet places to study, but also engage in community activities, where they can overcome isolation while also engaging in life. lifelong learning, self-education, and discovery.

In his view, libraries will continue to be vibrant community spaces where people can learn, interact, read and acquire better literacy. The place people think about and come to when they need to solve a problem, or to learn or discover something. Lots of technology, but also a place for social interaction and inclusion.

“Fundamentally, libraries are about democracy,” Ms. Little said. “A library makes sure that everyone has free and fair access to information so that they can make good decisions, so that they can be part of the political process. The lack of a library means there is a void in this area, and that is a problem for democracy. “

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