Thursday, March 4, 2010

Update to Chattering classes invade library quiet

Latest News
Library Responds to Quiet Spaces Debate
1 March 2010

The Library's CEO and State Librarian, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, has submitted a letter to the editor of The Age newspaper discussing the changing ways people use the Library and the increase in Library visitors.

Ms Schwirtlich's letter was in response to Dr Leslie Cannold's opinion article published in The Age on 23 February, which sparked public debate about the ways quiet spaces in the Library should be used.

Ms Schwirtlich's letter was published in The Age in part on 27 February and is presented here in full.

To: The Editor

It is with disappointment that I read Dr Cannold's comments, and letters of some of your respondents to this page, about using the State Library of Victoria.

I am disappointed because there seems to be a vein in the discussion that seeks to polarise – be it around the use of technology; around what is seen as civil and uncivil; between what is ‘true’ use of a library and what is not.

At a time when there is concern about the participation of young people in the life of cultural institutions, the State Library – like so many other libraries – has seen an increase in absolute numbers and in the use made of it by young people. Is this not cause for celebration of the success of the redevelopment of the Library and its services and programming and of the relevance of libraries in general?

In 1854, Sir Redmond Barry conceived of the Library as 'the people's university' – a place where the world’s knowledge and information would be freely available to all citizens of the growing colony of Victoria, regardless of their social status, financial resources, age or gender.

This defining concept has guided the State Library of Victoria through 156 years of our history, re-emerging in different expressions over the years, but remaining fundamentally the same – providing Victorians with ready access to a continually expanding world of knowledge.

In 2010 the demand for this service has never been higher. We are the only major cultural institution in Victoria to have experienced increased patronage in parallel with Melbourne’s rapid population growth.

In the last 12 months more than 1.5 million people visited the Library. They came for many reasons – some for research and study; others to see our collection materials on exhibition; others again to attend an event, or access the internet, or read to their child, or discover their family history, or to sit in the La Trobe Reading Room and study the ribbon of words around its circumference.

Of course with such massive growth in patronage come the issues of how best to manage the increasing demand on our facilities. There are times when the number of people wanting to use our facilities outweighs the number our building can currently support. There will be times when the simple hum of a full room may distract those who can only work in silence. These issues simply reflect the popularity of library services today. For this Library it is preferable to be stretched by demand than under-utilised or irrelevant to our population.

We are constantly examining how best to meet the expectations of our growing user base. We recognise the tensions raised in these pages and welcome the feedback. These letters, in addition to the many responses delivered online, demonstrate the different opinions and expectations Victorians have in relation to this Library.

The fact is that libraries have changed as have the ways people use them. They have changed because information is now accessed, processed and shared in ways beyond the imagining of our 19th-century founder.

For the State Library of Victoria providing access to information remains paramount. We are adapting to service the new demands of an increasing user base and changing information landscape. We are digitising our unique Victorian collections to make them more accessible than ever before. We are showcasing the collection through exhibitions on site and throughout Victoria, with learning programs and public events and we have invested in better catalogue resources making it easier than ever to explore the millions of items in the Library's collections. In doing so we believe we are strengthening Victoria’s culture and reducing disadvantage.

I hope that Redmond Barry's vision of universal access to information resonates more truly with Victorians than an attitude which would seek to exclude. I hope that the next generation of researchers is welcomed here. I hope that the many different ways people use the Library will be celebrated and the increasing patronage of this Library is hailed as a success and one of which Victorians can be proud.

Anne-Marie Schwirtlich
Chief Executive Officer and State Librarian
State Library of Victoria

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