Sue Norris is the user services librarian at Gladstone City Library.
Sue Norris is the user services librarian at Gladstone City Library. Luka Kauzlaric

Quiet revolution underway to keep library in touch

IF libraries are dying a slow death, somebody forgot to tell the Gladstone branch.

In recent years, the Gladstone Library had suffered a decline in the number of memberships against population, going from 47.7% in the 2008 financial year to 40.05% in the 2012 financial year.

In short, something needed to be done. So the library got in renowned library consultant Kevin Hennah to take a look around.

That trip would revolutionise the way the library approached getting the punters into its aisles.

Instead of thinking as an institution, Hennah suggested the library should start thinking like a retailer.

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"He had a look around at the library, and he suggested a lot of face-out shelving like they have in book shops," young people's librarian Bettina Nissen said.

"It has a much more inviting appeal. It certainly makes it easier for people to find books."

If you've noticed that the library has become less cluttered over the past year, that's no accident. The library has got rid of stock to make what's there easier to find.

The library has also been busy pushing its e-collection, with visitors now able to download e-books and audio books from home.

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"If you don't have a digital presence, you're getting lost in this world, so we've had to move in that direction to stay current," user services librarian Sue Norris said.

"The usage has gone from zero to lots. We only just began it this financial year…but it's been very popular.

"I think libraries are learning to offer so much more to the community by way of different resources.

"Going digital makes a huge difference, too, and our facilities are improving all the time."

The new manga section at the Gladstone City Library, Gladstone.
The new manga section at the Gladstone City Library, Gladstone. Luka Kauzlaric

The library has also been busy trying to skew a touch younger, setting up a wall of "manga", a Japanese style of comic, which has been growing in popularity.

"I think it (manga) is growing in libraries," Ms Nissen said. "It's gotten pretty popular but only really in the past five years or so.

"School libraries don't have it, so it's important that the (city) library actually finds those niches that are very popular but which aren't held anywhere else."

Ms Norris also said free wi-fi at the library was a key part of getting younger people through the door.

It's been nothing short of a quiet revolution in the past year, but according to Ms Norris and Ms Nissen things had to change so things could remain the same.

"What libraries are is a space where people can gather; it is a gathering place," Ms Nissen said.

"Another part of what libraries do is become the holder of local history. There's not many other places so it's important that we have that conservation role and we have it that it's now digital.

"Those are the stories that children need to know."

The library has also been hard at work to re-enforce the sense of community to newcomers in the region through programs such as the Language Cafe and functions for new members of the town.

According to the librarians, it's that sense of community that will keep people coming back to libraries for generations to come.

"The young children still love books. I've yet to meet a 12-month-old who won't be engrossed by a picture book and start turning the pages by themselves," Ms Norris said.