Australian libraries are embracing the opportunities that 21st century innovations have made possible. Technology has become the means for libraries in all sectors – public, academic, corporate, specialist, schools – to reach out to their community in ways that are innovative, unexpected, and information rich.
These libraries realise that they have a vital role to play in today’s interactive knowledge environment, where asking a question is synonymous with ‘googling’, and where ‘catching up with the news’ can happen in many formats via small and big devices. Print is no longer king, and content is everywhere on screens of many different sizes. By re-imagining and re-branding their spaces, functions and services, Australian libraries are meeting the new challenges.
Libraries in the community
Libraries throughout Australia have been offering access to books, magazines, tapes, DVDs, newspapers, audio books, and more for information and leisure for a long time. But with the increasing flexibility for information sharing that the internet provides, digital media has become a cornerstone of connected 21st century libraries, changing the way they interact with the community, and providing new ways to record history, society and culture.
Our libraries are ‘shape-shifting’ before our very eyes, bringing with them exciting spaces to visit (outfitted with anything from coffee-shops to e-book readers) and providing virtual opening hours around the clock.
Content for all
So what is this all about? The global popularity of the Internet and the ready access to information via web searches has led people to expect access to almost any kind of cultural material via a web browser. This is where digital content from libraries begins to really count. Starting from the top, the National Library of Australia is leading the way, ensuring that Australians have access to their documentary heritage now and in the future. A virtual visit to discover Australia’s Digital Collections is very worthwhile providing a surprising range of variety with Trove, Picture Australia, Music Australia, Australia Dancing and Australian Newspapers.
Of course we also have Australia’s web archive, PANDORA , which is a growing collection of Australian online publications, established initially by the National Library of Australia in 1996, and now built in collaboration with nine other Australian libraries and cultural collecting organisations. The name, PANDORA, is an acronym for Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia – showing perfectly how important digitisation of content has become for modern Australian libraries. Another great example is the National film and sound archive, which is also a recognised leader in digitising and preserving our history and culture.
Furthermore, Australian libraries are active in international digital projects such as The Commons on Flickr. Whether it is here, or in various places like Trove’s Australian Newspapers, the magic happens when the community becomes involved. People can not only find, share, research or enjoy resources, but can also contribute to the growing digitised collection of cultural heritage. Do you recognise a person or location in an image? Can you interpret the text? Then go ahead, and participate!
Sharing for all
It is easy to see that the modern library continues to be at the heart of a community because of digitisation.
In addition to providing e-books, digital collections and online resources, libraries are helping keep memories alive. Personal collections and community history projects are all part of digitisation projects around the nation. Libraries are also helping make available images and resources held in government departments, historical societies, museums, galleries, and by individuals. By digitizing them and expanding the collections with resources that have been born digital (originating in digital form) libraries are at the centre of the action.
Our digital memories make our heritage, and our libraries are also helping us care for our personal memories and materials – some of which will eventually be shared as part of our cultural heritage. The services of libraries span from scientific data and born-digital ephemera to video games and web archiving. Whether it’s with help of a Starter Kit for Community Groups or with the help of large organisations like the ABC (which also encompasses archives, libraries and rights managements) digital and digitised content is here to stay.
Making it mobile
Library services are also getting mobile in many unexpected ways. Don’t just think of Twitter, Facebook or Google+ as spaces for teens! Libraries want to capture digital ideas and communicate them quickly.
Libraries are using social media to pass the message around, and make access to resources relevant and up-to-date. After all, access to the photos from events (via Facebook) or receiving a message about what’s on (via Twitter) are all part of the new social media scene. And of course, many libraries make it possible to get great digital e-audio and e-book content for our mobile devices using services like Overdrive and Wheeler’s books.
QR codes are also proving to be a quick digital access point (in libraries and exhibitions) to media of all kinds, and Apps are providing immediate access to digital content anytime, anywhere without needing a computer.
Australian libraries have a bright future in the digital world. Libraries have always been here to help us understand our world and build our communities. Now, they are just doing it better than ever.
This article was commissioned by the Goethe-Institute and first appeared on www.goethe.de as part of Germany-Australia focus on libraries. This article appeared at the following link http://www.goethe.de/ins/au/lp/kulto/mag/lib/ele/en8855739.htm.
Top image: cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by DRs Kulturarvsprojekt