Ipswich Libraries - Evolving in a digital world

14th September 2021

Australia’s libraries rose to the challenge during COVID-19, quickly finding new ways to keep people reading. From live-streaming storytime to improving digital services, Iain Finlayson takes a look at some of the ways that Australian libraries have shown their ability to adapt and thrive in the digital age.

Across Australia and the world, technology is playing a part in changing the notion of what a library can be. For instance, Ipswich Library Service Pod, which opened in 2019, is a self-service library service located outside a shopping centre. Using your phone or library card, you can borrow and return books, as well as reserve books online and collect them at your convenience.

The Australian public libraries report 2019-20 highlighted that, despite in-person library visits being curbed by COVID-19 restrictions, the use of online library resources and services increased by 23 per cent. The use of digital innovation has continued post-lockdown. One example is Civica’s library management system, Spydus, which is used to manage more than 2,000 public library services.

As we see a growing trend of platforms delivering curated content based on preferences, like Netflix, solutions like Spydus are developing to offer recommendations based on borrower profile and their book history, providing libraries and users with a personalised and automated experience.

These library platforms can take in a wide variety of content, including photos, documents, news clippings and letters, then using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services make that content searchable and accessible. This digitised and AI-infused solution also increases the accessibility of information for hearing or vision impaired users.

The reach of Microsoft’s Azure platform means that access is available regardless of location – essential for historians or researchers who want to access information remotely

Bathurst Library successfully completed a major Spydus upgrade while also implementing new community-driven initiatives in response to the COVID-19 crisis. When the library closed its doors due to lockdown, the team instantly worked out ways to continue providing a service to the community. One priority was creating a temporary eMembership so that more residents could access the resources online.

Live storytelling via Facebook, a virtual school holiday program, online author talks, new web pages to assist with home schooling, expanding the eLibrary collection and establishing a no-contact Call & Collect service are some of the other digital initiatives that were introduced during these challenging times.

Libraries will continue to evolve, combining their traditional operations with digital services. The public will also start to see a trend of digital-only library memberships. This alternative can service readers in remote communities as well as those who are already consuming digital content.

For example, the popular online library, hoopla digital, has recently expanded to Australia, offering access to over 600,000 movies, shows, music, ebooks, audiobooks and comics. Hoopla digital has already partnered with several libraries across regional and metropolitan Australia, including the City of Wanneroo Libraries, who have delivered this service in response to soaring demand for digital resources.

These additions would improve and transform the library experience, enrich people experience and allow libraries to get better use from their catalogue. We could even see libraries with paperless reading areas, touchscreens and robots as guides. The innovations of the future remain to be seen.