Just over a week ago, I was perusing the online catalogue and offerings of Melbourne Library Service. I was particularly interested in the e-resources they offered and discovered they offered ebooks and audio books, not only in English but also in other languages such as Chinese. The provider for their e-resources service is Overdrive. They also have links to other areas of access.
As I am looking into Overdrive as a potential service to subscribe to for the school library I am helping transform, I was curious about the offerings Overdrive can provide. My understanding, based on a communication thread on OZTLnet, is Overdrive is quite expensive and for a school with continually squeezed budgets, justification for such a service needs to be great. In the same conversation thread there was mention of an opensource alternative called Callibre. I downloaded Callibre and had a play around with it for evaluation purposes. The difference is that Overdrive acts as the distributor and middle link to the providers of books whereas Callibre cuts out the middle link and you deal directly with suppliers of e-resources. There is a list of suppliers you can search for books including commercial vendors such as Amazon and free vendors such as Gutenberg. Potentially, this would be many accounts to work with although this is not too different to how physical books are currently sourced. Callibre provides an avenue and search function to collate and catalogue the e-resouces and make them available for access. If you search all the suppliers, you have access to information about pricing and DRM status. They are two very different products. Callibre is clearly a management tool for e-resources and Overdrive is a distributor as a subscription service. Possibly, with the current restrictions around ebooks in Australia waiting a little longer may prove beneficial for the school I am working with.
When customised for a school library, Overdrive will no doubt be different to the public library version but exploring how it works via a public library and the ease of access from home was part of what I wished to explore.
I was quite excited to discover that I can become a member of Melbourne library service online, without entering the actual building. How’s that for virtual library service I mused excitedly! As it was 11pm at this stage, going in to a library in my P.J’s was clearly not on the cards. I eagerly signed up, obtained my barcode number with password and was ready to start borrowing through this virtual world. As my laptop already has Adobe digital editions, I was set up with the required software to continue.
After perusing their e-resources I selected a couple of books I was interested in reading, added them to my cart and proceeded to the checkout (that is the terminology of the service Overdrive) I put in my new barcode number with my pin only to receive an error message about my membership and needing to visit the circulation desk. I tried to troubleshoot and looked at their help resources but it all proved futile. In the end I had to email a Librarian. I received my response the following day and it turns out due to certain restrictions they need me to go in and collect my membership card and verify I am who I am and live where I live. It appears my sense of immediate gratification had to wait a little longer. Joining online does provide access to their databases; which is a positive.
After being ill for a week, I finally made it in the library physically yesterday. I didn’t realise the city library as a public library existed prior to this year. I assumed it was a library that catered for the CAE as the CAE is directly next door. In the past it was the State Library of Victoria that I would visit in the city, but now I have the city library as another and different option when in town.
This was the first time I visited the city library, and as it is a fairly new library (it opened in 2004), there is much about this library that is worth mentioning. The staff member was very helpful when I first approached and was able to produce my card immediately whilst explaining my borrowing abilities including e-books, software requirements and restrictions on ebooks. For example, if an e-book is already borrowed by someone you are not able to borrow it. The restrictions in place treat digital resources as if they are physical resources. One person can borrow an ebook at one time. Number of ebooks of the same title available is dependent upon how many the library has paid for in their subscription . So if they have subscribed to five versions of the same book, five people can borrow the book at the same time. I am curious as to whether Overdrive has the restriction on amount of times an ebook can be borrowed before the library has to re-subscribe to the same book (that is purchase another copy for lending digitally). There are a great deal of restrictions with ebooks and lending at present, particularly in Australia but hopefully this will change in the near future.
On another note is the city library as a physical space and what I noticed and want to share.
There are various zones across different levels. When you first enter you notice a lift access as well as stairs that pass a cafe before you reach the front door of the library. On the ground level is the children’s nook with a small table and small stools, a computer on a table the right height for children and signage indicating the children’s sites you can navigate. There are picture books on one side and chapter books on the other with rotating shelves housing children’s DVD resources. On the other side of this children’s area are shelves catering for different languages, as represented by the languages of the communities, mainly Indonesian, Chinese and Vietnamese. There are also resources for other countries. Opposite this area is the magazine area.
On the middle level you have a large communal table where people can work and up the ramp you reach the area that houses an extensive music cd collection and DVD collection on shelves that look like the ones you would find at a music store. Turn to the right and there are two large screens on the wall with a seat in front of each. One person was seated in front of one playing computer games. Towards the left you enter a room filled with computers and spare tables. In this room, I found quite a number of people on laptops or sitting at the available computers and there existed a buzz of activity.
All around the library spaces existed these standalone benches with a computer screen, scanner and eftpos facility with a sign (self check-out). I believe the correct term is a Libray RFID Management System . I had not seen this in any library before and I was definitely interested as I watched people checking out their own books. I checked out my own before I left and it is quite easy to do. You stack your pile of books and they will be scanned and loaded to your library record. They are also desensitized so you don’t set off all the library alarms as you try to exit with your borrowed items. I did hit one problem as only 17 were loaded of my 18 chosen items and I needed to carefully check each record against the physical sources to make sure they were checked out. In the end I found the renegade CD that refused to register and after a couple of attempts it managed to show its face on my card record (Ah technology forever a problem manages to arise!)
At this stage, concern overcame me as I had not seen many shelves with books everywhere. I wondered where they are. Then I remembered the central stairs that I had not been up yet. I went back and climbed the stairs. At the top there are distinct areas to the left and right, front and back with a huge opening that looks down on the library below. There are connected walkways that travel to each side around the open space. On one side there is a long white gallery space that has art works across the walls with chairs in the position down the middle of the space with their backs to each other. Across the other side I could see a door and what appeared was a glimpse of shelves (as I love physical books I felt very hopeful now) Sure enough, this was the room I was looking for. It was a room filled with shelves and my beloved ‘Dewey‘ at the end of each shelf indicating what was housed. I felt very happy indeed and my comfort returned. There were further rooms that appeared as great spaces for instruction on this level also.
Not that I don’t like all that is new but, I would like to retain part of what is ‘old’ when it comes to libraries. I want my library space to be a bit like a mash-up. Something old, something new, a lot of in-between and plenty of choice. Now I feel satisfied that city library fulfills this brief and I want to keep coming back.
My final sharing relates to my favourite aspect of this library and what I feel they can improve. Both relate to atmospherics.
I’ll start with what can be improved so I can end this post on a positive. The only thing I would like to see as an improvement is the inclusion of comfortable seating. That is lounges, cushions or bean bags scattered around the various zones. As my early memories of libraries are ‘couched’ with the fondness of comfy chairs for leisure reading, I view this as an absolute must have for any library service. At city library the seating is not comfortable on any level. There are metal chairs about the place that feel like bus stop benches and the seating in the children’s area feels very insufficient for the number of patrons I witnessed.
On a positive note with regards to atmospherics, the city library has a piano on the top-level in the art gallery area that is available for use (with restrictions). You need to be grade 5 or above in piano, you need to contact the library in advance and discuss what you will be playing. You are only allowed to play complete pieces to add to the atmosphere as it is not a practice piano for scales etc. The pieces cannot be silly pieces such as ‘chopsticks.’
This piano adding to the atmosphere of the library is fantastic! Now I want to keep visiting in the hope of catching some amazing pianist adding to the atmosphere of my library experience! That will certainly keep me there longer.
The Photo below is of the city library piano in the Gallery space. However, on the day I visited the seating was a different arrangement.
Here is a brief clip of someone playing the piano in the Melbourne City Library.