In Australian libraries silence is not golden

Libraries grapple with the challenge of remaining relevant in a modern city.

Visitors to public libraries in Adelaide, South Australia, are being greeted with piano concertos, movie marathons and almost everything in between.

An inner-city suburb library installed a piano late last year, which proved to be so successful that the city's council brought in another surplus piano to a neigbouring library in February 2016.

Hanlie Erasmus, the City of Unley Library and Museum Services Manager explained how libraries are changing.

We want to break away from the idea that libraries are quiet spaces, modern 21st Century libraries look at creating spaces that the community can use in ways that will suit their needs, said. People now see public libraries as a place for connections rather than just a repository for collections and that shift is extremely important.

Erasmus said players ranged from children wanting to perform the latest simple tune they had learned to people who lived in apartments and did not have space for a piano and accomplished players.

Sometimes people will play a tune or two and that’s fine and then we have had random musicians coming in and playing for an hour or more.  We have regulars – one gentleman only plays for 15 or 20 minutes at a time but he comes in every day.

Rather than limiting the amount of piano play in the libraries, the City of Unley is looking to recruit volunteer players.

The two libraries also offer workshops ranging from computer literacy and cyber safety to blogging and technology for garage bands.

Erasmus said the library still had designated quiet areas, where an increasing number of mobile business people and students came to work, utilising the library’s free Wi-Fi.

Known as a festival city, public pianos came to the fore in Adelaide in 2011 when 30 donated pianos were dotted around the city’s streets and parks as part of a children’s festival.

"We hadn’t seen them public libraries before but we saw them in shopping centres, on street corners and in supermarkets … the changes it made to the shopping experience was amazing and I thought it could be of benefit to us in the library," Erasmus said.

The State Library of South Australia, in the heart of Adelaide, has also relocated its piano and encouraged the public to play it.

Marketing Manager Beverly Scott said the piano in its ground floor hub area was played every day.

"It does attract a lot of use from international students who don’t normally have access to an instrument, accomplished players and other tinkerers and it adds another dimension to the public space," she said.

The library also has engaged a team of large-scale projection artists to illuminate stories from its bequest collections on the exterior walls of the building every night. The project, known as the Story Wall, is the first permanent projection art installation curated by a library in Australia (and has been featured here.)

Other SLSA events include quirky exhibitions and Harry Potter movie marathons in its Mortlock Library, which was named in the world’s 20 most beautiful libraries by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2014.

Built in 1884, the Mortlock Library has also been compared to the Hogwarts Library from the Harry Potter films, prompting the library to give it a wizardry makeover and host a sold out marathon of the blockbuster movies earlier this year. 

"In days gone by the library’s core business was for research purposes but we could no longer claim to be the only source. We still like to claim we are the most authentic and reliable source of information however we do need to remain relevant and engage with the community in a whole lot of other ways".