You wouldn’t read about it. These days it’s okay to make a little bit of noise in a library, and if you doubted the popularity of our Victor Harbor Library it caters for 600 people – on a quiet day.
And the trendies (find that word in an edition of the English Oxford Dictionary pre-1960) don’t even refer to it as a library – it’s a lounge space because that is exactly what they have become; a place to lounge around, sip your own coffee and hook up your iPad to the free wi-fi.
Those who still have their original library card may be horrified at the cultural change that has slowly engulfed libraries around the nation, but according to Ben Footner (pictured), manager of our library and overseer of records for the Victor Harbor Council, it is all about engaging the public and presenting a library for what it has always been for centuries – a place of knowledge. It’s just that we now learn through additional forums.
And Ben, plus the other welcoming nine full-time and part-time staff at the Victor Harbor Library, see this as a marvellous thing because it encourages people to learn, even the toddlers with at least 40 on a Wednesday morning being read books with their caring mums. We said the library was no longer quiet.
Ben believes libraries remain popular, but the way people are using them has changed.
“It used to be pop-in get what you need and you’re out, and now a lot of people call them the lounge room of the community. A visit to the library is not a 15 minute thing now; it can be two hours or more. They read the newspaper, browse the magazines, have a wander up the aisles before they have a coffee. It’s more of an outing I guess; it’s a community destination.
“We run a lot of programs for all ages, particularly the children. Pre-school literacy programs and story time… we have always had them, but they are more popular now.
“Baby bounce sessions for the real littlies for singing and nursery rhymes… we’ll have 40 kids and 20 adults in our space in the library for them every Wednesday, when a lot of our regulars can’t get a spot in the car park.”
Ben, 34, and his wife Jacki have two children – Chloe, three, and Ashton, nine months – and they have read to them since they were born. “Chloe loves reading books, but right now Ashton loves to eat them,” he said. “They do know what you are talking about when you read.”
Public libraries throughout South Australia are now linked by a one-card network where you can be a member of Victor Harbor and borrow or return a book anywhere in the state. But you won’t find a better library in South Australia according to the Australian Library and Information Association, which ran a poll that voted our library the most popular in the state as part of a national award in 2014.
“You can be a member of Victor Harbor and borrow or return a book anywhere in the state,” Ben said. “There is not such an importance on making sure you have something on everything in your own library these days because we can get the book from anywhere within a week or so.
“There aren’t as many books in libraries these days, but popularity has not waned. Rather than each library spending a fortune on a limited number of books we can spend less and expand the range and have them available for everyone across the state.
“Biographies are huge here – we have a row of them, whereas most libraries don’t have half the number. I think it’s because it represents an opportunity to learn from someone else’s life or finding out what makes them tick.
“Perhaps when people get towards retirement age they enjoy other people’s stories and think more about their own. An older population has seen those who have
written biographies grow up so the book becomes more personal to them; they feel that close association.
“When selecting what books to have in the library we tend to judge what is popular… you have to get a vibe what your community wants and we share the selection process amongst the staff, plus we take customer requests.”
And well done to the book worms of this town. According to Ben, they are very good at bringing their books back. “Most just genuinely forget sometimes,” he said. “It is interesting how people don’t associate a value to the books; some people may have $500 worth of books overdue but don’t think of the value.”
Helping the Victor Harbor Library be the best it can is an exceptionally active Friends of the Library group, which boasts more than 100 financial members.
“They raise significant amounts for us,” Ben said. “It can be $10,000 a year which is substantial, and their help and impact is profound. As an example, with our children’s area it was okay, but with their help we took it up a notch and has been a huge positive impact for the community.
“A library is about individual stories really… they come in and because of their experience in the library they have managed to secure a job or explore a new career path or learnt something knew. Who knows? It is a place where anything is possible. I believe the library has become an even more enjoyable experience.
“It’s a house of mental stimulation. Some people are so precious about what people do in libraries, but what do you think people do at home with the books? They read them while they are having a coffee or eating.” And then there is Ashton.
We said you wouldn’t read about it, but you just did.