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THE GROUND FLOOR IN FOCUS by lindahy

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THE GROUND FLOOR IN FOCUS

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									THE GROUND FLOOR IN FOCUS
Redesigning the National Library

            Diana Giese comments on the success of the
   redeveloped Ground Floor at the National Library, as she strolls
through the Visitor Centre, looks at the Exhibition Gallery and views
              the changes in the Main Reading Room
1     f you haven't recently visited
       the National Library, you're in
       for some surprises. Once
 through its imposing entrance, you
 now find, on either side of the
 Foyer, in the mellow light of
 Leonard French's stained glass
windows, a bookshop and a
 restaurant. Beyond them, where
 once a substantial marble wall stood
 between you and the books, the
 Library has been opened up. You
 move down a kind of inner street,
 lined with objects from the
 collections, and ending in a round
 information desk. This is the Visitor
 Centre. Beyond it, you see people
 browsing. Then, as you enter the
 Main Reading Room, the whole of
 the Library's stunning site spreads                             A visiting school group in the Visitor Centre
 out before you, the sky, the                               exploring the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue)
                                                                 Photographed by Loui Seselja, NLA Photographics
 landscape and the lake extending the
 room towards the city.                   Collection, for instance, consists of a          core service areas that must be
'The way the Ground Floor                 thousand rare Australian comics                  provided. And we had a very tight
 was arranged before was incredibly       from the 1940s and 50s.                          budget.'
 intimidating,' says Sandra Duffield,            When you've finished your                       How is something so complex,
 Chief Librarian, Information             glimpse into the collections, there's            catering to the needs of so many
 Services. 'People would come and         the Friends' Lounge, where Friends               different readers and other users,
 visit for fifteen minutes and ask        of the National Library can meet for             planned? The first step was for the
 where the books are.' Now, there's a     a cup of coffee, or attend events                Library-wide community to be
 sense of welcoming people in, and        such as a performance by a visiting              consulted about special needs. These
 of relating a number of the services     writer or one of the Wednesday                   were then presented to a committee.
 and activities the Library offers. The   night poetry readings.                           `The real breakthrough came when
 `street' is lined with showcases in             When the Ground Floor was                 we on the committee asked, rather
 which a changing collection of           redesigned, 'we were working with                than dealing in an indirect way, if
 resources is displayed. Cook's           terrific constraints, because the basic          we could meet the architect,' says
 Endeavour Journal, one of the            design is very limiting,' says Jan               Ian Templeman, Assistant Director-
 Library's most valuable works, has       Fullerton, Assistant Director-                   General, Cultural and Educational
 been on view. Material connected         General, Collections and Reader                  Services. They discussed possibilities
 with the opening in Canberra of the      Services Division. 'There are big                with Alex Shumack, from Allen,
 Vietnam Veterans' Memorial
  included unit histories, accounts of
  individual experiences, maps, sheet
  music and contemporary
  newspapers. Such displays provide a
 window into the collections, says
  Exhibitions Curator Michael
  Richards.
        You can also enter a large
  Exhibition Gallery. Encounter with
  Eden, a recent exhibition, showed
  early images of New Zealand from
  the Rex Nan Kivell Collection. The
  People's Treasures, opening in May,
  will look at the way private
  collectors, through gifts and
  bequests, have helped build the
  Library's holdings. Some of the                           Schoolchildren in the new Visitor Centre, an open area
  material on display will be                        lined with display cases and works of art from the Library's collections
  unexpected. The John Ryan                                      Photographed by Loui Seselja, NLA Photographics


M A Y 1 9 9 3	                                                                                                                  5
Jack and Cottier Architects: how the     Exhibition Gallery, 'previously                  We'd like to have all
Main Reading Room, the exhibition        tucked out of sight on the Lower           our service points together—
space and the Visitor Centre might       Ground Floor'. The new space opens         Manuscripts and Pictorial adjacent,
work and feel.                           at the same times as the reading           for instance,' says Fullerton. 'But we
       `We came with a fairly clear      rooms. 'So you can read photographs        simply don't have the space on the
idea of the sorts of services we         or other pictorial material, in a          Ground Floor. And our Asian
wanted to offer from the Ground          different way. You see regular users       Collections is still more remote than
Floor—and we tried to think ahead,       come and go, even at night.'               we would like it to be.' Technology
as far as we could, to what we might            The Petherick Room is for           can help overcome this. Videodiscs
want to offer in the future,' says       those doing advanced research over         will shortly allow users to print out
Sandra Duffield. 'Our ideas were         a long period. Researchers are able        black-and-white copies of items
based on experiences of how the old      to leave materials on their own            from the Pictorial Collection.
layout hadn't worked. We had ideas       desks. Previously, it was a dark
about the working relationships          panelled room removed from other           we have to
between areas, but no preconceived       readers. Now it's a light and airy
opinions about where things should       extension to the Main Reading              look at how most
actually be.'                            Room. 'The reason the glass went in
       `With the Visitor Centre, we      was that we wanted to open up the
                                                                                    imaginatively and
tried to describe what the concept       use of the room as well,' says Sandra      creatively we can use
was by saying: "It's like a market       Duffield. In addition to its clientele
square or village street. Imagine that   of distinguished scholars, you're          our existing space
you're walking through a village or a    now just as likely to see someone
square where there are shops all         there researching family history.                In time, another major service
round,"' says Ian Templeman.             And material from other special            area, integrating Manuscripts,
Whether visitors are schoolchildren,     areas, like Manuscripts, is now            Pictorial and Oral History, will be
community groups or the elderly,         available there in the evenings.           set up on the Second Floor. 'There
`we wanted that sense of pedestrian      Everything's together on the               will be potential for using more
flow, interest, activity,' adds Jan      Ground Floor.'                             technology, anticipating the needs
Fullerton.                                      How do the older users feel         of these forms of material into the
                                         about the new location? When it            future,' she says.
                                                                                          `In the next five years, the
The real break-                          opened, the Library invited long-
                                         term researchers to a celebration,         Library will need an alternative
through came when                        with coffee and cake. And just             facility,' says Templeman.
                                         about everyone who'd ever used the         `Meanwhile, we have to look at
we on the committee                      room seemed to arrive,' says               how most imaginatively and
asked... if we could                     Duffield.
                                                Equipping the Main Reading
                                                                                    creatively we can use our existing
                                                                                    space.'
meet the architect                       Room was a priority of the work                  `We'll devote the building
                                         done. Much existing furniture was          more to our Australian materials,'
      An added advantage of the          revamped for reuse. 'A lot of the          says Fullerton. 'The emphasis with
direct way of working was that           tables were not only large, but            overseas materials will be not on
decisions could be taken on the          very tall,' says Duffield. 'We had         physically collecting items, but
spot, cutting down the time for the      them resurfaced and cut down to            setting up networks to provide
project's completion.                    size.' New furniture, designed as          access to them in electronic forms.'
      Change is never brought            cheaply as possible, was stained to              `Our number one priority is
about without criticism. 'We went        match what they had. Such                  community-level education,' says
through a ghastly period when we         economies, together with leaving           Templeman. 'We'll encourage
had to move all our users out and        some work undone, meant that               greater use of our services through
provide services from temporary          the whole project came in under            such things as travelling exhibitions.
accommodation,' says Fullerton.          budget.                                    A library is a facilitator of a cultural
`Such a large number of                         What additions will the future      network.'
complaints!' Nevertheless, when the      see? 'In the Visitor Centre, we've
new areas were ready, there were          now got two OPAC terminals—
queues to use them, starting from        which is a start, but the Education
the very first day. 'Now, at times,       Room needs equipping,' says
we're packed to capacity,' she says.     Templeman. 'And one day we'll be
`Our use has gone up by at least          able to mount amazing, multimedia
twenty per cent.'                         educational displays, drawing on the
      Templeman points to the            whole of the Library's collections         DIANA GIESE      is a Sydney writer,
success of the new location of the        and services.'                            publishers' editor and broadcaster

6	                                                                                NATIONAL Library of Australia News

								
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