Could This be the library of the future ?
Carmel Stuart is happy she doesn't have to conform to at least one a stereotype at work.
"We don't go about tut-tutting and shushing people anymore," she said.
The senior librarian at the Toowoomba regional library said the days of quiet rooms filled floor to ceiling with books were long gone.
I think you measure the quality of a civilisation by how well the library is valued and respected.Carmel Stuart, librarian
"And that's the way it should be. A library is not just a repository of books anymore," Ms Stuart said.
"We do still need our books and hard copies, but we are also a 24-hour service online, with e-books and e-audio.
"A library has to be a lot of things to a lot of people today."
The doors of the brand new Toowoomba library are about to be opened to the public, and Ms Stuart said it was the perfect time to discuss the role of a library in a modern society.
"I think you measure the quality of a civilisation by how well the library is valued and respected," she said.
Designing a modern library
While the new building Ms Stuart will work in is bigger than the library it replaced, fewer books are on the shelves.
"The books you see here are what we call 'hard working stock'," she said.
"We've got a very sophisticated HQ collection that runs reports on which books don't go out often enough."
Instead of rows and rows of shelving, a modern library is more likely to have spacious lounge areas, charging stations for digital devices, and special reading rooms for children and young adults.
Books that have stayed a little too long on the shelves are relegated to a different building, but still available for borrowing.
"It's shameful if you don't have an Agatha Christie book available," Ms Stuart laughed.
"But they aren't hard working stock, so they live in our retrieval area."
Building a sense of community
Ms Stuart said there was a fear in the 1990s that computerisation — and the internet — could spark the end of libraries and librarians. But that has not happened.
"I believe great libraries build communities," she said.
A library has to be a lot of things to a lot of people today.Carmel Stuart, librarian
"We're not in the business of getting away from books, but we're in the business of appealing to as many people in the community as possible with the most relevant services and programs and collections as possible."
That means people tapping into the free wi-fi while sitting on the green lawns outside the library are treated as seriously as those checking out an armful of books inside.
"We have people who receive the services of the library who are never going to come into the library," she said.
Book deliveries to homes, audio download services, and even internet-delivered courses are all part of a modern library's mission.
The Toowoomba library even hosts regular choir performances.
"If there are people who don't want that loudness, there are rooms they can book and other quieter sections in the library they can go," she said.
"So things really have changed."
But in a library, some things will always stay the same.
"Librarians like order," Ms Stuart smiled.
But even the order of books has changed to suit the modern library-goer.
"They may not want to go to the sport or careers section in the Dewey Decimal system to find a biography," she said.
"So we have a 'destination collection' just for biographies.
We're not in the business of getting away from booksCarmel Stuart, senior librarian
"We have several other discreet boutique collections grouped in subject order for people to find what they are looking for quickly."
Amongst the tables and computers and e-books, technology has even managed to find its way into the most old-fashioned part of the library.
All the books at the Toowoomba library are fitted with RFID (radio frequency identification system) chips.
"Books now go through the returns chute, are scanned and immediately returned. Then they travel on a conveyor belt where the system does a lot of sorting before staff even have to touch it," Ms Stuart explained.
"Returning items is a fairly labour-intensive process. So this frees up staff to do other things."
The modern librarian is armed with a RFID scanner to scan for books while walking past the shelves.
"It's faster than eyes," Ms Stuart said.
"Technology works for us, so if we can make savings with the things that are labour intensive, librarians can value add — and spend our time — elsewhere."
Even with all the changes and technological advances at the library, Ms Stuart is confident a time traveller from the past would still recognise the modern library as a library.
"The common denominator of books would please them," she said.
"We'd probably have to train them in digital literacy, but we have classes for that in the digital hub.
"So we can do that, and much more for them."
Source: ABC News