As libraries around the world are facing the challenges of staying relevant in the digital age, their staff are also under pressure to adapt from traditional roles as custodians of their collections to enablers of information technology.
“We have to do everything we can to embrace the digital world,” says Alan Smith, director of the State Library of South Australia.
“There is no choice, we have to do it, and we have to do it enthusiastically.”
In response to this shifting landscape, the State Library of South Australia has turned itself inside out, engaging a team of large-scale projection artists to illuminate stories from their bequest collections on the exterior walls of the building.
The project, known as the Story Wall, is the first permanent projection art installation curated by a library in Australia.
And the librarians, Smith says, have embraced their new roles as digital storytellers, working with the artists to curate the exhibition.
The role of the Library is to be a custodian of knowledge, but more importantly it is to be enablers
“It was something I was very clear on from the beginning – every single image, every single sound, every bit of footage is from the collections of the State Library, and nobody knows those collections better than our staff.”
The librarians not only undertook the initial research required in pulling together the stories from the collection, but recorded many of the narratives that can heard from the street.
Their knowledge was critical in the collaboration says lead projection artist and founder of Illuminart Cindi Drennan.
“Through our conversations with the Library we were aware of things like The Treasures Wall and SA Memory and different exhibitions they had presented over time, and potential collection items that could be developed further, things like early colonial toys and donated car tyres from the Adelaide Grand Prix.
“But of course within the Library there are curators and librarians who have a deep understanding of the collections that are not of public knowledge. And we wanted to know what their ideas were, and talk about what it was going to mean for the public to hear or have those stories told in a new form,’” says Drennan.
As a result, the projections that play on the sandstone walls of the Library from sunset to midnight throughout Summer, have deep roots in South Australia’s history.
Being a permanent installation, Drennan says it was important the projection technology was energy efficient.
“As South Australia and Adelaide heads towards becoming a carbon neutral city, we wanted to know that the carbon footprint of this project was as minimal as possible.
“It’s some thing we consider in everything we do, and it’s essential in keeping the power bills down for the institution,” she says.
In the new year, the Library are looking to go one step further in breaking down the barriers in digital literacy, integrating social media and co-creating content for the Story Wall with the help of the community.
“One of the great joys and delights, but also the great challenges of the digital revolution is that it is very much a two-way street,” says Smith.
“In the future we want to work with the people of South Australia, using their knowledge, their skills and their stories, and bring that into the Library as well,” he says.
But traditional book lovers need not be concerned about the Library’s new direction, he says.
“It’s not either or…digital is not replacing the printed book or the other services that libraries do.”
“The technology itself is only the enabler, and when it’s properly handled, it’s deeply, deeply democratic.
“All sorts of people can create, publish, share…and the so the role of the Library is to be a custodian of knowledge, but more importantly it is to be enablers, and help citizens embrace digital literacy,” he says.Jump to next article