Stirling Library Tour

12th May, 2008

SALIN relished the opportunity to tour the new Coventry Library in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills. The library service also comprises branches at Woodside and Gumeracha and serves a wide, library-savvy and demanding clientele.

With the recent merger of four local councils, a new library was not initially a welcome project. But with assistance from community groups and the Friends of the Library, along with Council support, a brighter addition to the library was built. Although there were plans to sell naming rights to the highest bidder, it was decided that naming the new library the Coventry Library was more in keeping with the history of the Coventry Memorial Library nearby.

When designing the building, the specifications called for:
• a hub for council activity,
• no space to be wasted,
• a space that’s as flexible as possible,
• a connection with the outside park area (and not to lose any lawn)
• and an innovative use of colour – the colours shouldn’t date, but shouldn’t look too corporate either.

On entering the Coventry Library, passing underneath the overhead sensor for the door counter, you immediately notice the expansive glass frontage that provides views out onto the park area. Though stunning, apparently this did cause one problem: since the returns chute is at the front of the building, and the staff work areas are out the back of the library, it’s a long way to transport items to be processed. To solve this, a glass fishbowl was installed behind the front helpdesk where all returns can be dealt with. There are plans to eventually install an RFID returns system to speed up this process.

The lobby area that immediately greets visitors to the library is designed to be a functional space. Here, users can read the paper, browse the magazines, access the reservation shelves for self-collection of items, use the self-check stations and obtain drinks and snacks from the refreshment area. There are also two flat screens displaying community, council and library information slides, currently produced by library staff. This area is accessible even when the library is closed, making it a useable space even on Mondays and before 10am on other days.

The front help desk is staffed by council and library employees, either individually or together. At quieter times, library staff can leave the desk and go into the library to assist users. A paging system at the front desk allows them to be called back when required.

On the same side of the library as the help desk are three self-checkout pods that can be moved out into the space when the library is open. Whereas other libraries may have these pods installed within the library collection area, having them near the help desk allows users to easily seek assistance when needed. Bright green in colour, the pods are proving very popular. Power points are located in the floor below the pods removing any wire clutter. The only complaint received about the pods is that the size of the top surface is not big enough to rest items on while using the system. To counter this issue, borrowers are encouraged to utilise the small, handy trolleys dotted around the library to hold their books as they are checking them out at the pods.

One thing you do notice about the library is the lovely use of colour. Greens, browns, reds and white help connect the space to the beautiful autumn colours you can see outside, and the use of leaves and grapevine images on the walls ensures the area has a fresh, clean and modern feel.

The library collection in all branches amounts to 80,000 items, with about 50,000 of these residing at the main library in Stirling. The collection is well borrowed, though, with about 22,000 of Coventry Library’s items currently out on loan. To ensure variety, the three branches operate floating collections, especially with the fiction and audiovisual items. Inter-branch loans are also an easy way for library users to access the remote items.

To the right of the main entry, behind a colourful red wall, is the children’s section. The area, although probably a bit small for the library’s needs, is a totally flexible space, with all furniture and shelving on wheels and able to be moved around. The décor is full of bold primary colours, bright scenes on the walls, bean bags, soft toys, couches, funky light fittings and games PCs. The area has no internet access, though, as staff cannot provide regular supervision. The area has high usage, so much so that the Baby Bounce & Rhyme session will soon be moved into the main library to accommodate the growing number of attendees.

There are two large entrances to the library’s main collection. The one at the front takes you past the soundboxes, where you can relax and listen to the latest music, and through to the book shelves. The other, at the rear of the building, takes you straight to the IT area behind the shelves. The whole area is large and airy, with comfortable couches and chairs dotted around for those wanting some time-out. The floor is cement, which you would think would create noise issues, but apparently doesn’t when there are enough bodies in the area during the day to absorb the sound. Large signs are dotted around, designating the various areas where you can ‘play’, ‘listen’, ‘search’, ‘copy’ and ‘meet’.

At the far end of the Adult area is the Youth section, which starts at the second soundbox and extends around past the games consoles to the IT section. The area has lower shelving units for the fiction and graphic novels, but most of the Youth non-fiction items are integrated into the adult collection. While the Youth section is dominated by the colour brown, the IT area is mainly green, with a great use of fabric and wallpaper on the back wall that aids soundproofing. Next to the IT section is the reference collection, some chairs and tables for study, the copy/print area, and the small business area where you can use a laminator, guillotine or other office supplies. There is also a small training room of six PCs that can be booked, or when not in use is opened up to casual users.

At the very back of the IT area is a meeting room which doubles as a quiet study room when not booked. Both the meeting room and the training room have interactive whiteboards that are hidden behind cupboard doors making for a very neat look. The meeting room is increasingly used for exam invigilation, along with another smaller meeting room near the rear entrance to the main collection.

There has been much support from community groups such as Rotary and Friends of the Library in terms of donations and furniture. The Friends of the Library have so far raised $230,000 and are still fund-raising! Most of this money has gone towards the IT and technology aspects of the library. Sponsors and donors are rewarded with their names displayed around the space to recognise their support.

The staff area is through an automatic door at the back of the collection which requires staff to wave their cards across a hidden access point in the wall to enter. Two main staff areas are housed here, one for quick work tasks and volunteers, and the other for permanent staff doing ongoing work. The area is all open-plan, but private conversations can be conducted in the Manager’s office adjacent to the tea room.

The building cost around $5.4 million including landscaping, relocation of a road, toilets, and a lift to the council offices. While a few clients feel the old library was cosier and friendlier, the response to the new library has been overwhelmingly positive. Even library staff have commented that they feel more professional in themselves in their new environment. Overall, the library is very impressive, a great space for library users and staff alike and a great addition to the Stirling community.

Kelly Glossop


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