Turning libraries into readers’ lounges

Talking to Vicki Edmunds it quickly becomes apparent that many of us hold some rather outdated beliefs about libraries. The first is that they are quiet:

“That used to be the case, but certainly not while I’ve been working in libraries,” says Edmunds, president of the Australian Library and Information Association. “Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve usually shaken the library up and turned it into a community lounge room.”

The second misconception is that they are always called libraries. Technology has changed the shape of libraries, and some have become information services or specialised services for particular groups of stakeholders, she explains.

A love of books is essential for working in a library. A good dose of patience comes in handy, too.Credit:Jennifer Soo

While a law library for solicitors in a law firm may have been called a library 20 years ago, it’s now “an information service because they’re checking for previous information on particular cases and do media monitoring as well,” she says. “So that’s [going] beyond providing books and information [and] actually helping shape a case for the lawyers.”

Through her role as manager of community libraries and customer services at the Blue Mountains Council, Edmunds oversees three full-time libraries and another three part-time facilities.

“I love the fact that every day is different. You can’t plan your day,” she says. “As soon as the door opens, people come streaming through that front door. What they ask of you can be so quirky, so interesting, and you will change people’s lives along the way.”

’Almost daily we have someone come in saying, ‘My grandchildren have bought me this new smartphone. I don’t even know how to switch it on.’ To us, that’s just a reference question.′

Librarian Vicki Edmunds

Even in a public library, today’s librarians need to be comfortable with technology. Customers come in to use the computers to complete online job applications or print Centrelink forms, or simply get help on modern dilemmas.

“Almost daily we have someone come in saying, ‘My grandchildren have bought me this new smartphone. I don’t even know how to switch it on.’ To us, that’s just a reference question,” says Edmunds.

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