Libraries become the hip place to be

Interesting article in Sunday’s Age (the print headline was “Just quietly, libraries have become the place to be”, happily the online version is not so hung up with the ‘shush’ stereotype) on the growing popularity of libraries, including school and public libraries:

Libraries become the hip place to be


As exams approach, students cram at the State Library in Melbourne, but attendance at libraries is increasing in general. Photo: Pat Scala

John Elder

June 14, 2009

BOOK sales might be on the slide around the world, but borrowing from the local library is surging – and that’s the story whether you live in New York, London or . . . Korumburra in West Gippsland.

Victorian municipalities are following the global trend, with some libraries becoming as crowded as clubs.

On average, West Gippsland regional libraries have a third more members than they did a year ago.

The City of Port Philip boasts an 11,000 jump in membership, from about 61,000 to 72,000.

But the most dramatic surge of library patronage has occurred in the central business district, with the State Library recording more than 400,000 extra visitors in the past recorded year – with 1,147,000 visitors in 2007 compared with 1,570,000 in 2008.

A spokesman for the State Library, Matthew van Hasselt, was “reluctant to give just one reason for the gain, but I think the increasing numbers of people now living in the CBD are a factor”.

Apparently, inner-city residents don’t account for the astonishing but low-profile success of the obscurely located City Library. Set up five years ago as a joint initiative between the City of Melbourne and the Centre of Adult Education in Flinders Lane, the City Library had a record 70,000 visitors last month – 15,000 more than in May last year.

Says Barry McGuren, library services co-ordinator, City of Melbourne: “Last year, about 60,000 a month was the maximum. Why the leap? I think people are only now starting to find we exist as a library … and 75 per cent of those people aren’t city residents. They’re mostly commuting workers, students or visitors from the country. We also have between 3000 and 5000 homeless people who regularly use our services.”

The City Library has become so popular – with up to 3000 visitors in an hour during lunchtime – that the State Government recently co-funded an extension of weekend opening hours. “We used to close on Saturday at 1pm, now we’re open until 5pm. We’ll be opening on Sundays from August.”

Since late last year, various media bodies including The New York Times, The Denver Post and Bangor Daily News, have been pondering if the leap in library use is linked to global economic woes. Indeed, where many businesses are under threat, libraries are a growth industry such that the City of Melbourne is planning to open three new libraries in the next 10 years – in Carlton, Docklands and Southbank.

Says Barry McGuren: “We do get a lot of unemployed people coming into use the computers to look for jobs or work on their CVs, but I wouldn’t think the GFC (global financial crisis) has played a great role yet. We’ve seen a steady increase at our East and North Melbourne libraries … and I’d say that’s more about the fact that the population of Melbourne is growing.”

Online resources are having an undeniable impact on library popularity, and also how libraries are organised. This shift is most apparent in our schools.

Mary Manning, executive officer of the School Library Association of Victoria, says that most non-fiction and reference materials are accessed online in the school system, while bookshelves are laden with more fiction books than encyclopedias.

“We’re more likely to subscribe to an online encyclopedia than have a set of volumes on the shelves. It’s made learning much more proactive . . . and students feel much more excited using online resources. It also means they can easily communicate and workshop their ideas with fellow students at school, but also with students on the other side of the world. They’re not longer writing for the teacher, but for themselves.”

Ms Manning says it is now routine for students to be taught about intellectual property and copyright to avoid plagiarism issues.

The Commonwealth Government’s Building the Education Revolution Primary Learning Environment

The Commonwealth Government has recently released the guidelines for Primary Schools  applying for grants for 21st Century Learning Neighbourhoods, 21st Century Libraries/Learning Resource Centres and 21st Century Multipurpose Centres. 

Of note to library staff (whether or not they are eligible for the grant) will be the information on what a 21st Century Library/Learning Resource Centre should offer:

21st Century Library / Learning Resource Centre

The 21st century library provides a learning resource hub and a central location for storage and coordination of facilities and services for use by the whole school

community. In contrast to the libraries of the industrial era, 21st century libraries can be thought of as places, opportunities and resources for individual and shared investigation for all learning styles.

 The library will house the majority of the school’s resources and provide formal and informal spaces for both students and staff.

 The library area performs a number of important functions associated with the range of learning and teaching activities to be undertaken at the school. It should be able to house the physical resources of the school, such as books, magazines and maps, as well as offer access to online, electronic, audiovisual and other resources through provision for computer terminals and audiovisual equipment.

 It offers flexible teaching spaces that can be used by whole class or smaller groups to undertake learning activities based upon library resources. There are spaces for quiet reading and discussion as well as space for formal lecture and discussion for larger groups of students.

 Audio-visual recording and editing facilities, with ‘green screen’ and acoustic separation, an animation zone, computer access, central storage of communal ICT resources and a small presentation space are integral to its design as a ‘high-tech’ digital learning hub. A staff work area, areas and facilities for dynamic displays, displays of books and other learning resources, an adjoining conference room, interview room, collaborative zones, quiet reading and study areas, relaxation zones, including an integrated café style area for senior students, provide spaces for independent learning and social interaction and ensure that it maintains a ‘hightouch’ quality.

The 21st Century Library is a sophisticated learning resource centre for joint school and community use with resources, spaces and programs that can accommodate the needs of people at all stages of the lifespan.”

Also of interest is the information provided on “Embedded, Integrated Information and Communications Technology.

“Communication is the key to building and sustaining a community of learners. Seamless access to information and communications technology (ICT) by students and teachers is essential for contemporary teaching and learning practice. ICT is broadening the scope of how, when and where learning occurs. ICT provides a powerful, integrated set of tools to improve learning, teaching, communication and administration. Effective use of ICT enhances a school’s capacity to:

  • Personalise and extend learning
  • Support creativity, risk-taking, higher order thinking and problem solving
  • Connect learning beyond the school
  • Promote self-directed and self-managed learning
  • Develop 21st century literacies – digital, technological, visual, collaborative, interactive
  • Embrace authentic assessment and ‘assessment for learning’ through presentation software, ePortfolios and online assessment
  • Communicate across geographical, cultural and temporal boundaries
  • Creatively develop and manage learning and teaching resources
  • Efficiently access and store information.”

The full guidelines can be found here and fact sheets can be accessed here. Information on leading practice and design is located here. For specific information on the Victorian implementation of the program, contact your Regional Office or email

Good luck with your application and we would love to follow the process of building some new primary school libraries on Bright Ideas.