Contemporary libraries are offering patrons more than information and recreational resources by extending their services to include cultural resources (Gross, 2013). This concept is designed to connect with and engage patrons in cultural activities that have previously been outside the library domain. It is designed to bring people together to open discussions that deliver education and learning opportunities through a different medium.
Whether it is a series of regular exhibits as in Samuel J. Wood Library, or an art installation like Black Opium, or a collection of photographs from a local history group – the concept of pop culture within libraries extends the outreach to a more diverse community. Communication with the creators of thèse worksis key to understanding more about community, with many libraries running a program for artists in résidence.
Creative Spaces Framework, developed by State Library of Queensland, seeks to define libraries as creative spaces to encourage cultural participation through formal and informal discussions, ‘Continuous learning and informal approaches to éducation’.
Rockhampton Regional Library’s Steampunk and Pop Culture Convention ‘CapriCon’ in April this year embraced the opportunity to host a mammoth event featuring Steampunk games, Cosplayers, Tabletop gaming, Costume panels, Jewellery making and a Steampunk High Tea.
Steampunk enthusiasts revel in the Victorian era, Science Fiction and the remodelling and re-inventing of 19th Century engineering artefacts. The convention platform provided a venue for hobbyists, tinkerers and professional artists to enjoy a creative experience. Table Top Gaming included Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a great example of a community project that stimulates conversation and engagement.
As creative spaces within libraries is a relatively new concept for State Library of Queensland, to date there is little evidence-based knowledge of the impact of the program. However, the educational outcomes from these programs might be raising cultural awareness, exploring the history of the culture and in developing understanding and tolerance for diversity and the joy of recreational and interactive learning within a community space. The possibilities are endless.
My fieldwork placements at Hervey Bay and Helensvale public libraries gave me the chance to see public libraries at work, creating a hub for young families and teens to explore and discover literacy through a supported community environment. I gained a deeper understanding of the value of providing communities with a meeting place, welcoming all ages and facilitating access to print, digital and electronic resources that may otherwise be unavailable or unknown.
Queensland Pubic Libraries Association, ALIA and State Library of Queensland have been proactive in formulating programs, products and services to meet the needs of young families in Queensland, guides by organisational policies and vision statements.
The recent Queensland Government initiative First 5 Forever is a literacy program freely available at public libraries, for ‘children and their families from babyhood’. The program is scheduled in public libraries and is designed to introduce babies and their parents or caregivers to literacy, rhymes and interaction developing both social and language skills.
Hervey Bay and Helensvale libraries offered additional programs, inviting young mums, dads and caregivers to bring their babies and toddlers to ‘Rattle and Rhyme’ sessions in a dedicated space within the library. The sessions include favourite rhymes and activities to engage participants through music and literacy. Toddler Stomp and Story Time similarly engaged young toddlers, aged 2 – 6 years in more active participation in the program – bringing a story to life with movement and playful actions.
The catalyst for increased funding for early literacy was the release of 2012 Australian Early Development Census data which revealed that 26.2% of Queensland children are ‘developmentally vulnerable or at risk on one or more developmental domains – including language and cognitive skills’. Follow the link to see a compréhensive report on early learning literacy.
Activity and play elements within these programs increases children’s learning according to The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Playing increases ‘physical, emotional, personal, spitirual, creative, cognitive and linguistic aspects, which are ‘intricately interwoven and interrelated’. Playing in a non-confrontational environment with carers and library educators working together, gives children confidence to be creative, develop new friendships and to make connections with new concepts.
The literacy program extends to children over 5 years with school holiday programs to introduce coding and computer programs. These programs allow children without internet connectivity access to wifi and experience with programs not otherwise available to them.
After school programs conducted at Helensvale involved play activities based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math [STEM] learning. By structuring the program on play and interaction with craft materials, children are guided through basic STEM activities interactively. Individual folders record the child’s participation with a token sticker of success. Using straws, pom poms, glue and cardboard, children constructed a maze board and blew the pom poms through the maze.
Another activity used marbles, paper plates and coloured paper to construct a rolling ball maze. Children learned about science (gravity and physics) and engineering (design of the maze).
Scratch programs also offered as an after-school activity are small group activities using a media room with eight children and instructor, following simple coding instructions to create an interactive computer game. Children can continue to navigate this program at home as it is an open access program freely available on the net. The library facilitates that first step, giving the participants the confidence to try it.
Libraries in regional communities such as Fraser Coast, bridge the digital divide for children who may not have internet access at home. Coding programs are a major initiative of VISION 2017 to provide challenging learning experiences in digital literacy. The Kodu, Scratch and Python program was chosen by Fraser Coast Libraries as the preferred program for children based on consultation and collaboration with children, parents and educators. The critical first step in any program is to know what it is that your users want, when they want it and why they want it. Building a program around this foundation is key to connectedness and engagement.
Similarly, libraries and the library brand is still alive and well with children, teens and families. Summer Reading programs and Reader’s Cup invite participation from older children and teens. Book series and themed collections offer a challenge to compete and to interact through discussion of the books, trivia quizzes, critical reviews.
ALIA’s primary guideline for providing services to young people is.. to assist in the development of early literacy and promote literacy. A further guideline is to provide access to resources and materials identified as being needed by the community the library serves.
I think that the SLQ VISION 2017 framework is providing a realistic structure from which public libraries can develop literacy programs that relate to their communities.
Literally from the driver’s seat of my car this week, I tweeted merrily about readers’ advisory services. As a newbie to public libraries, I am amazed at the different perspectives of librarians, borrowers and user groups that all revolve around reading.
Firstly the sophistication of the ‘Book Coasters’ reader’s advisory service is impressive with many new and not so new titles displayed giving readers a wide choice of genre and writing style to choose from together with advice on DIY Book Club.
At Fraser Coast Regional Council Libraries, both Book Chat and Book Clubs exist meeting the different needs of users. Book Chat is an introduction to new publications, fiction and non fiction, in a range of genres and styles to suit the members. Attendance at the monthly meetings fluctuates from as few as four readers to fifteen. At the meeting on Wednesday all of the 12 female attendees were retirees. Two library staff guided the session, and four of the regular readers presented prepared critical appraisals of their recently read books. The session was hilarious with plenty of rivalry for first speaking position and only mildly covert comments on the appraisals. After a lengthy description of the plots and sub-plots of The Golden Key, one reader commented that: ‘Actually, I realised that I wasn’t really interested in what the secret was, where the golden key was, or whether they actually found any of it! It was all far too bizarre’. Book Chat is about introducing readers to readers, readers to books, engagement with library staff and gathering information about what readers want.
Similarly Book Clubs build connections between readers and their library. In Hervey Bay, Maryborough and the smaller communities of Howard, Burrum Heads, and Tiaro, readers meet either at the library or at a cafe or private home to share their reading experience. Ten copies of the same title, often chosen from the recommendations from websites like Goodreads and Reading Group Choices and from popular demand, are supplied to the Book Club for up to three months. It is up to the book club members to establish the ground rules for the club.
In establishing a readers’ advisory service, both these programs provide great insight for librarians to gauge interest areas from their keenest readers while circulation statistics further support reviews of the reading and information trends within the community.
Becky Spratford’s comprehensive list of Readers’Advisory blogs, although published in 2012 would be a great starting point for any RAs as the diversity of blog sites gives librarians and RAs a guide to RA resources, library resources, major media outlets, general book blogs and podcasts. Sifting through the myriad of advice online in relation to RA services is quite onerous and time consuming and confusing, if not overwhelming.
The most critical factors for an RA include communicating with the readers, taking on board suggestions, identifying trends, catering to interests/demographics and responding accordingly. These were reflected in a recent advertisement for a Readers’ Advisory Librarian, where the Mosman Council specified a need for a qualified library professional ….with knowledge of literature and current reading trends … and experienced in social media for promotion and marketing. It seems that RA services will become a critical part of information services as the volume and complexity of information continually evolves.
In different environments the user needs will be different and accordingly, a readers’ advisor’s knowledge of the physical collection as well as online sources of information will make a difference to the efficiency and completeness of the service provided, as will their soft people skills to understand what is needed and how best to provide it.
This is so within a community of learning, for if we simply read and absorb the information presented by another, then that answers just that one query at that one time; but if we read the answer, then de-construct and analyse that information, investigate it further and add another facet then the answer creates a broader perspective and deeper understanding.
The concept of community of inquiry opens discussion, inviting analysis and investigation to improve understanding and increase knowledge. Creating a culture of critical analysis offers opportunity to experiment and to think laterally to really make a difference.
We’re continually exposed to these opportunities through informal forums like think tanks and brain storming, and formal processes like investigation and research and analysis. When I am in a Community of Inquity, I tend to try to fly under the radar, only venturing a strong opinion when I’m sure of supporting evidence.
This aligns with my ‘ideal’ personal profile of contributing to the online discussion with factual information that is in context with the discussion. This doesn’t always work of course, but it is my ‘ideal’ profile. I like to think that I am responsible and responsive to queries and genuinely seek information to share either online or offline. I am respectful and courteous, non-discriminatory and compassionate with a commitment to practically and proactively supporting those within the community.
Having completed my first week of fieldwork placement at Helensvale Library this week my perspective of the services provided by public libraries was informed by the diverse programs and products run by the library. The team of librarians, library technicians, library assistants, IT specialists and community organisations work together at Helensvale to provide the public with the information and services they need. Community programs provided young families with an introduction to rhyme and literature through regular morning meetings with singing, dancing and a bubble machine. School-age children were invited to undertake STEM experiments working individually and in teams to discover simple scientific and engineering concepts through craft-type play activities. Older children were encouraged to experiment with Minecraft, Scratch and Digiworks programs run by librarians and other tech-savvy team members. Adolescent and adult patrons were offered assistance in access to the internet, use of computers, operation of the printer/copier/scanner and basic access to resources including DVDs, music scores, CDs, audio books, books and magazines.
The library team was cohesive and collaborative in its delivery of information and literacy services, respecting the diverse levels of ability of its patrons and taking care to understand their needs and respond to their queries. This kind of collaborative culture has been developed through an environment where experimentation and exploration is encouraged throughout the team. It has evolved from observation and survey of users to asssess their needs and to meet their expecations.
Technology has changed the nature of library ‘business’. Self check-out and check-in is accepted by an estimated 96% of the branch patrons, with patrons encouraged to manage their individual accounts online using their library membership card to access the catalogue, information about loans, holds and upcoming events at the library.
Access to computers, printing, copying and scanning services, together with free wi-fi access has brought a different vibe to the library with many arriving at the library at 9am with their laptops, phones and briefcases as if the library is their office. Visitors to the area use library services to access free wifi to check emails. New residents join the library so that they can use the products and services and become involved in programs of learning. It’s a vibrant community of people who work together to engage in self-education, self-improvement, recreational learning and reading and discovery of new and not so new technology.
This sharing of knowledge and information and making available the tools and facilities needed to support self-education supports many within the community who may not otherwise have access to formal learning. It also provides an open forum for sharing of knowledge, information and skills. While Helensvale library does not currently have a formal Makerspace, programs and events provide activities that fit within the regulatory frameworks of health and safety.
As Liz McGettigan stated we need to ensure that the 21st Century library will continue to engage with community in the format and with the content that the users desire.