10 March 2019

Reflections on ALIA QLD Springfield Library tour (public and academic)

Yesterday I went on a library tour jointly organised by the ALIA QLD and ALIA QLD Library Technicians groups. The tour took in two libraries, the Ipswich Libraries Springfield Central branch (public) and the University of Southern Queensland Springfield campus library.

It was a great day out, and I learned a lot by observing what was happening at these two very different libraries. Thanks to the ALIA organisers for pulling this event together and arranging car-pooling and to the two libraries for hosting our group.

Tour attendees at Springfield Central Library (top - with our host Tonille second from left) and at the USQ Springfield Library (bottom, with our host Clare second from left).

About Springfield

I had never been to Springfield before going on the tour. The suburb has an interesting history, being a newer development that is part of Greater Springfield, Australia's largest privately-owned master-planned city.

The demographics of Springfield are quite different compared to Queensland and Australia. Springfield has a much lower median age, a lower tertiary participation rate, a much higher proportion of residents with two parents born overseas, a higher proportion of full-time employees and stay-at-home parents, a much higher household income, higher levels of home ownership, and a much lower proportion of families without children. (Interestingly, I saw billboards for at least two retirement communities being developed in the area, so things could change quite dramatically in the future with an influx of retirees.)

You can read more about Springfield on Wikipedia and on the Queensland Places website.

Ipswich Libraries Springfield Central branch

The Springfield Central Library is located in a brand new building at the Orion Springfield Central shopping centre. Our tour guide was Tonille, one of Ipswich Libraries Customer Service Officers. 

As a new build, Springfield Central provided a testbed for a lot of innovative technology, collection management, spaces and services. The library has been hugely successful and within just a few months of opening had contributed to increases in membership, visits and loans for Ipswich Libraries

One of the most interesting parts of the tour for me was to see what RFID tagging of the collection was enabling. In the picture below (moving clockwise from bottom-left), you can see:
  1. A pretty standard RFID-based self-checkout machine.
  2. Tonille demonstrating the use of the 24-hour pickup lockers. These are similar to Australia Post's parcel lockers and are located in the shopping centre carpark, enabling people to pick up their library holds out-of-hours.
  3. Returns shelves. Users simply pop the books back on the shelves and voila!, they are automatically checked in. (Brisbane City Libraries also have these at my local branch - they are great).
  4. AMy - the Automated Materials Handling machine. As books are dropped in the returns chute, they go up a conveyor belt, are automatically checked back in, are sorted automatically into a range of bins, depending on where they need to go next (back on the shelves or off to another library if a library user has placed a hold). 

Springfield Central has also done some interesting things with organisation and display of their collection. Matt Pascoe presented on Springfield's use of retail techniques in their "market place" at the Asia-Pacific Library and Information Conference (APLIC) last year, and I highly recommend looking at Matt's presentation to get a sense of just how successful this has been. 

In the picture below (moving clockwise from top-left, and then to the centre), you can see:
  1. bookshop-style display in the market place of a genre (science-fiction)
  2. more organisation by genre in the classics section
  3. subject-based signage (with matching spine labels) for children's non-fiction
  4. general non-fiction divided into large subject areas, then Dewey-fied within that
  5. current magazine and newspaper display
  6. broader view of part of the market place
  7. bookshop-style display of staff member's selections (these and other sections in the market place have a backup list of titles so that these sections can be quickly restocked to always look full and inviting)
  8. picture book storage - no organisation at all in this particular unit
  9. signage (with matching spine labels) for the general fiction collection, which is broken into genres, then alphabetised by author name within genres. 

In terms of spaces, my overall impression was that the library was bright and cheery, and that a lot of effort had gone into zoning the library for its multiple uses. There were group and individual booths suitable for both collaboration and quiet study, bookable meeting rooms (with integrated large screens), and larger event spaces that were made more flexible through the use of sliding doors. In the picture below (clockwise from top), you can see:
  1. Group study spaces. Eating and drinking is allowed but users (particularly teenagers!) are strongly encouraged to do the right thing and ensure that rubbish is placed in bins. During our visit we saw two security guards interacting with teenagers in the library's spaces in a firm but non-intimidating way. (In one case two teens were being supervised by a security guard as they cleaned up the lift after a glitter confetti explosion!) 
  2. Entry with service desks. Things to note include that these desks are height-adjustable and also the neat cable management solutions (cables are grouped together within flexible snake-like pipes that go up into the ceiling rather than into walls or floors). 
  3. Individual study booth in a quieter area of the library. 

Two things that I could not get photos of were the children's space (which was packed out for an informal storytime) and the excellent facility for changing nappies, breastfeeding (bar fridge and microwave included), and providing a time-out space for kids who may be having a meltdown.

In the picture below (clockwise from top), you can see:

  1. Our host Tonille, inserted into an augmented reality (AR) video where she was shooting alien spacecraft. The real Tonille was actually standing in front of a green wall on the other side of the room!
  2. Signage setting expectations about noise associated with a public event. 
  3. One of the two 3D printers located in the makerspace. These are free to use for library members over 13 years old and you can book a 45-minute slot with a "makerspace champion". 
  4. Staff member's desk with all the 3D printed objects awaiting collection. 
  5. Promotional poster for a ukelele workshop run by a local musician. This event was on while we were in the library and by the end of 2 hours the group was performing a rendition of "Stand by Me"!
  6. The Library is one of several sites for community immunisations - I don't recall ever having seen this in a library before and thought what a great idea it was to join up libraries and health providers to offer this essential service for kids in a familiar and less clinical environment. 

I was super-impressed with this public library! Although not everything I saw would translate into an academic library environment, I took away lots of ideas to discuss with colleagues.

University of Southern Queensland Springfield Library

At USQ, we were kindly shown around by Clare Thorpe, the Associate Director (Library Experience).

Clare explained that there has been a library at Springfield since the campus was established in 2006 and that the current library space had been refurbished under a year ago.

Interestingly, although three quarters of USQ's enrolments are for online study, many students live within 100 km of one of the campuses so there is still demand for study space. Clare noted that the majority of USQ Springfield students are not school-leavers, but tend to be more mature people balancing a range of work, family, and study commitments.

In the picture below (clockwise from top), you can see:

  1. A large multi-purpose area. The refurbishment focused on making spaces as flexible as possible, with furniture able to be moved as needed and removed easily for events. Note also the full-height windows. These replaced much narrower windows, letting in more light and integrating the indoor and outdoor spaces in keeping with the Queensland lifestyle and USQ Library's overall ethos of openness and transparency. 
  2. The Library now includes spaces for the secure display of objects from the USQ Art Collection. 
  3. Clare let us in on this excellent library refurbishment hack! By simply placing new wooden end-panels at the end of their existing stacks, they were able to completely refresh the look of the collection spaces without replacing the shelving.
  4. The Library is open 24/7 (with the exception of the collection area, which is locked when the library is unstaffed). The space includes this full kitchen area with sink, microwaves, and waste disposal. Clare noted there had been no issues with students having food in the space. 
  5. The refurbishment included a new entrance with pod-style service desks. USQ does not operate a combined library-IT service model but the library and IT desks are located next to each other in the same space. Opposite these desks there are a number of small consultation rooms. These can be used by students consulting with staff on the Springfield campus but are also equipped with videoconferencing facilities for times when staff are only available at other USQ campuses. 
  6. Quiet study area. The library space has two main zones, one more suited for lab and groupwork and the other concentrated on the collection and spaces for quiet study. Note the use of the same colour (green) but in a more muted tone. Lighting is also more subdued in this area. The student carrels are extra wide and padded in a soft felt-like fabric that not only added visual appeal but I imagine would also help with soundproofing. As with the other spaces there were plenty of power and USB points. 

I was not able to get photos of the main student space as this was full of people. This was a mixed-use space with a computer lab at one end, and study space for those with laptops at the other end. The library also has an Assistive Technology Room that is part of USQ's services in support of students with a disability.

Behind the scenes, Clare showed us processing areas for postage to off-campus students. One thing that emerged in the discussion that I was not familiar with was USQ's engagement with a specific disadvantaged cohort of library users: students who are in incarcerated. As students in correctional facilities do not have access to the internet, they are excluded from most higher education. Through its Making the Connection program, USQ has developed secure offline learning platforms. The library also contributes to this program by ensuring students have access to the resources that they need. If you are interested in finding out more about digital equity issues as they relate to prisoners' access to education, you may like to read this 2017 ASCILITE conference paper by academics from USQ and RMIT.