Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lingering in the Library

New service desk in Main Reading Room
Accompanying my husband on a business trip to Canberra this week presented me with an opportunity to visit the National Library of Australia to do a little bit of genealogy research. I spent a wonderful two and a half days  using the resources of the library. During that time I looked at around 30 books, read a few of them and took lots of digital photos of pages to read and digest at my leisure. I only managed to look at one microfilm.

I had a fantastic time at the library and hope that I can return to Canberra soon to avail myself of its facilities. For genealogists in Australia there are many discoveries to be made within its walls

The objective of the National Library is stated as "Our objective is to ensure Australians have access to a national collection of library material to enhance learning, knowledge creation, enjoyment and understanding of Australian life and society." (
The Paper Plate

Here is my little PMI evaluation of my visit:

* It's free
* A beautiful well-maintained building in a prime location by Lake Burley Griffin
* A huge collection of resources relating to Australia
* Free wifi for user devices
* Finding the less expensive Paper Plate food outlet on my third visit
Main Reading Room at NLA
* Comfortable seating and work areas in well-lit Main Reading Room
* A pleasant environment in which to work
* Many computers for users to access
* Access to subscription databases from library computer terminals
* Being able to preorder up to 15 books from my hotel room prior to my visits
* Swift retrieval of material from stack
* Not related to my visit but must mention Trove - a resource that fulfils the library's objective

* The unlit carpark by the lake made me feel very nervous and unsafe when leaving the building at 7:00 pm (I could not get a spot in the main carpark at 10:00 am, Tuesday). Another savvy carpark user had a torch, I had to bumble may way back to the car through puddles and over an unsealed potholed path.
* The meagre collection of printed works on open access
* $8.50 for a (find the tiny bit of)  ham sandwich in the cafe (and they didn't even put it on a plate)
* The cafe closing way too early on Sunday.
* Long lag between returning books and having them returned in library system meant I could not order as many books as I would have liked. Books were still shoeing up in my name several hours after I had returned them to the trolley.
* That one has to collect resources from different areas of the building

National Library at Night
* The issue of bags in the library. I chose a handbag that met the size requirements for entry so that I could take my camera, wallet, tiny scanner and netbook into the library. The attendant on Sunday let me take my bag in. On Monday the attendant wouldn't let me take my bag in because it was "too fat". On Tuesday another attendant wouldn't let me take my bag in because, although it was less than the dimensions shown on the perspex display model, the handle of my bag was in a different position! I saw a number of people in the library with large black computer bags. Why was my handbag that held a small netbook and scanner (ie it was a computer bag) refused entry when these big black monsters got in?
Macs at NLA

* The new bank of computers ar the NLA are Macs. Did the NLA get a good price?

* The decor in the newly decorated Main Reading Room is eighties style, purple and orange and will date quickly. Why wasn't a more classic style chosen?

Back to the eighties furniture at NLA
* I wondered about the use of library resources especially the computers. On Sunday on one side of me I had someone spending a lot of tme on
hotmail while on the other side the chap spent his time watching videos on Youtube. Does this use fit in with the objective of the Library? Do the people of Canberra use it as a de facto public library? Are the ordinary citizens of other areas in Australia disadvantaged because they can't rock up to the National Library to check their emails and watch videos.

* I noted the large number of high school and university students using the library as a study hall ( the same thing happens at The State Library in NSW). Does this use fit in with the objective of the Library?

* The morgue-like atmosphere in the library where one can hear a pin drop. Learning in the Twenty-first century is seen as a collaborative activity yet it appears as though there are few areas in the library that are suitable for collaborative work.

* I can't comment on the staff because I only had to seek assistance once to get my library card renewed. I am fairly self-sufficient in libraries.

* I wonder about the cost of security if patrons were let loose in the stacks versus the cost of staff  retrieving and returning material to stacks. When I am in an open access library I often find that by going to a certain Dewey number and browsing the books there I find some gems that I don't find via a catalogue search. I would imagine that in my 2 1/2 days that, if I had access to the stack, I would have been able to consult 300 rather then 30 books. On my recent visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City where books are on open access I was able to consult a huge number of books in just a few hours.


Infolass said...

Thanks, very interested to read your experience at the NLA as I contemplate a future visit.

Bribie Family History Association said...

Brought back memories of my 4 years in Canberra and doing research at the library. I also prefer more open access as browsing often turns up unexpected gems. Thanks

A O'Brien said...

Thanks Geniaus for this review of the facilities at NLA. I spent an afternoon there back in 2009. I hadn't seen any microfilm readers that allowed you to save to a Flash Drive until then so I was fairly happy to have that facility while I looked through some country newspapers. It was frustrating not to have open access to books, I agree browsing bookshelves is often a really productive research method.


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