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Public libraries need to provide their clients with access to training so that they can use information technology and develop skills to use the internet and cdroms effectively. Unless this occurs many people will effectively have no access to much of the most current information. The Mirrabooka Library and Information Technology Centre has been established in Western Australia by the City of Stirling to address this need, in association with the Internet Training Institute. The new library also enhances public safety in an area previously vulnerable to antisocial behaviour. A version of this paper was first presented at the Alia biennial conference Adelaide October 1998

Two reports have challenged the role of the Australian public library. The first, Navigating the economy of knowledge[1], prepared by Colin Mercer for the Libraries Working Group of the Cultural Ministers' Council reported on the results of the first ever national survey of state and public library users and nonusers.

The report stated that
 We note ... high uses of the library for formal and informal educational
 purposes to the extent of functioning as an additional arm of the national
 education system

 Our findings, particularly those relating to marginal users and nonusers
 with high rates of computer literacy, indicate that the library, when
 combined with the growing information and communications based competencies
 of the Australian population, is and will be a crucial part of the creative
 infrastructure needed to take Australia into the new knowledge economies
 and the new economic relations of the 21st century

The second report, also prepared for the Libraries Working Group by Colin Mercer, with Margaret Smith, entitled 2020 vision: towards the libraries of the future[2] stated that
 Libraries are functioning as an important--indeed essential--arm of the
 national educational infrastructure ... libraries are no longer confined to
 local providers for informal and adult education. They can enhance their
 local role precisely by becoming brokers, navigators and gateways to
 regional, national and global resources for education and enlightenment

It would appear, then, that there is a new role being enunciated for the public library, based on lifelong learning, promoting information literacy, and education. However, this is not a new role for the public library. The public library has always occupied a place in education since its beginnings as a mechanism to foster reading habits in the urban working classes in the nineteenth century. The self improvement model of the mechanics institutes and Carnegie libraries has been carried through to today's public libraries.

In the survey results of Navigating the economy of knowledge[3], it was found that the majority of the Australians surveyed, both users and nonusers, would automatically use the library as a source of information if they wanted to `find something out' and that a major role of the library was in education and lifelong learning.

Neither of these are new roles for the library, either. Learning is something that most people do every day. We learn to cook, repair the car, prune the roses, find our way to new places, where the best concerts and art exhibitions can be found and how to undertake crafts, hobbies and special interests. We learn every day. The public library is where many people find the materials to enable them to learn new skills that they probably do not even think of as lifelong learning.

An extension to the public libraries

What has changed, is that public libraries are in the vanguard of the information technology revolution. What has also changed is that people need to be taught the skills of how to navigate the new electronic information resources in order to complement the knowledge they have previously obtained from just the printed word.

The world's information and library collections are becoming digitised and far more accessible through the new technology. It is the role of public libraries not only to provide access to the networked information, but to teach people how to get the most value from it and to be discerning in the use of the information that they access ie to facilitate their information literacy, which may be defined as recognising the need for information, and then identifying, locating, accessing, evaluating and applying the needed information.

The choice for public libraries is not books or information technology, but rather that they now supplement the printed word with the huge resources available electronically. By doing this, they need to become the trainers and learning centres that enable the public, who have always come to public libraries for their information, to access the wider range of information.

It was with this new positioning in mind that the City of Stirling libraries approached the development of the Mirrabooka Library and Information Technology Centre.

The Mirrabooka Library and Information Technology Centre

In late 1995, the City of Stirling commenced planning for a new public library at Mirrabooka, in a lower socioeconomic area of the city. This was to be a branch library to serve the local population.

The library had commenced life in a recreation centre owned by the city and the library manager had convinced council that it would be wise to move out of the recreation centre and to rent a shop front in a new shopping centre being developed close by, and which had better access to public transport. This was agreed to and following the move, usage grew by 50.9% in the first year of operation and 32.5% and 38.2% in the following years.

Rentals increased and the city had land that was set aside for community use close to the shopping centre. Nine years after the move into the shopping centre, and with usage still rising, council agreed that a library building was warranted. Planning for it commenced.

In planning the library, library management was aware of the role of the library in today's society as a safe haven for the community and also as a social hub. A place where people could go to learn new skills in a pleasant environment and a place that offered the numerous community groups in the area, office space and meeting rooms. We also wanted to attract enough community activity and visits to ensure that vandalism and antisocial behaviour was limited. It was with this in mind that the construction of the Mirrabooka library was approached.

The land set aside for it was between the main shopping precinct which houses a wide variety of discount stores, and a subcentre which houses the largest Department of Social Security office in the state; a pawn broker; video centre; and a wide variety of state and federal government agency offices catering for the unemployed and the migrant population.

This land was adjacent to open space named the Mirrabooka Town Centre, which is situated between two shopping centres. This had deteriorated into a lake filled with shopping trolleys, graffitied buildings, hot paved areas with derelict buildings and gardens that were continually abused and which offered shelter for glue sniffers, drinkers and other antisocial activities. Yet it was an area that cost the Parks Department more dollars on an annual basis that any other reserve in the city. What was designed to be a pleasant area of artificial lakes and parkland had been a target for damage. It was an area where the community disliked walking because of those who used it for antisocial activities.

The manager of libraries had sat in on meetings of the Mirrabooka advisory committee which comprised representatives of the city, the public housing authority, the shopping centre management, the public transport company, the police and Australia Post. For years, the bus station had been plagued with problems. This resulted in security guards with rottweiler dogs being employed to enable people to feel secure. The shopping centre employed security guards to patrol the car parks, and the staff of the library which was housed in the rented shopfront were escorted from the building on their late night. The area had problems. Some said these could only be solved by a permanent police presence.

When the time came for enunciating the plans for the library a full picture of the problems that were faced in the area was known. The manager of libraries believed that if the city could build a library and other community facilities to bring more people into the area, and which gave the people of Mirrabooka pride in a new building, one of the social problems inherent in the area could be overcome. Work with the architect to progress the concept of the library as the social hub of the community then commenced.

Planning for a community

The library was planned as part of a community precinct to house community offices and meeting rooms, a city one stop shop information centre as part of the library, and an information technology centre, also as part of the library. The meeting rooms, community offices and library are all entered off a main foyer, which houses a small coffee shop as part of the complex. The foyer can be entered from two sides and the coffee shop leads to a small open air terrace overlooking the relandscaped Mirrabooka Town Centre and ornamental lakes. Paths around the lakes give access to the bus station, and to the main shopping centre, and to the subsidiary shopping centre which houses the government offices and medical facilities.

The library and community offices and the coffee shop terrace, all overlook the area that had been the target for vandalism. This has eliminated much of the antisocial behaviour and vandalism because those who were acting in this way now feel that the area is surveyed. Members of the general public have commented on how much safer they feel in the area.

During the planning for the building, it was also decided to incorporate an information technology centre into the library and to operate it as a business unit. This was the first time that the City of Stifling would be building a library that had room to incorporate a facility of this kind. The library would also offer the people of the area, many of whom could not afford information technology in their own homes, access to a free internet service as well as word processing facilities. This service was about to commence in all the city's libraries and since its inception has proved to be most popular.

The role of the public library as a catalyst for lifelong learning, and as the training agency to enable people to learn to access the new technology, was considered to be essential to those who used the library in this area. The operation of the information technology centre as a business unit which charged for training was also seen as an opportunity to appoint an internet trainer who could use his or her skills to provide instruction to clients of the centre on a payment for services basis, as well as conducting other courses that would be free to patrons who were unable to afford full training.

The information technology centre

This centre is a new dimension of public library services, in that it is specifically set up as a teaching centre. It is taking the new role of the public library seriously and following one of the observations 2020 vision: towards the libraries of the future[4]
 Libraries and librarians are navigators, charting and guiding the way on
 the information superhighways

Many libraries are providing access to the internet and trained staff to give assistance to clients using it. Some libraries make several terminals available for internet training, but very few yet offer a fully operational training centre.

Setting up the centre

In planning the centre, it was decided that it should be a definite part of the library and that entry should be through the library. This was to ensure that people saw the centre as part of the library service and were not intimidated by what could have been seen as a commercial operation, rather than as part of the community facilities provided by the city.

The room can be seen through glass doors so that interested library users can see classes at work. When the facility is not operating, they can go in and talk to the trainer or look at the centre and equipment provided. In hindsight, there should have been an external door so that evening classes could be run separately from the library. However, security was the main priority at the time of planning and an external door was seen as a greater risk both to the computing equipment and as an exit point from the library, which had no counter control.

The centre also has its own small kitchen hidden behind folding doors so that participants can take a break and enjoy tea and coffee without needing to use either the library activity room facilities or the staff kitchen. This makes it quite self contained.

Twelve desks are arranged in a U shape facing towards white boards and a projector screen. There is also a video unit which can be used to show the whole class screens from the internet. A thirteenth desk, for the trainer, is at the front of the room. Each workstation/desk includes a pentium 133 pc, an ergonomically designed chair and a desk with lockable drawer in which attendees can store personal items during training. Participants can adjust both the keyboard, monitor and chair to ensure comfort during classes.

Each terminal is arranged so that other participants cannot view directly the activities of another. This enables first timers to feel more at ease because they often fear that others will see them `making mistakes'.


The centre is equipped with thirteen pcs running Windows 95. The specifications of each are
 Pentium 133, 16 Mb Ram, 1.2 Gb HDD, 1.44 MbFDD, network adaptor, 16 bit
 sound card, 14 inch monitor and PS2 mouse/keyboard

Each pc is linked to a local area network hub and twisted pair cable allowing for 10/100 megabytes. Two DEC laser printers using HP Jetdirect are also part of the local area network, connecting directly into the Lan hub.

The local area network utilises both IP for internet access and printing and Netbeui for internal file sharing protocols. The local area network connects to a router and ISDN cable which provides access to the Stirling wide area network and internet access via the City of Stirling main administrative centre some ten kilometres away. The internal library network also makes use of this access to the wide area network, sharing the local hub, router and ISDN cable.

The use of a direct link cable removes the need for modems and the problems that may arise from using telephone lines. Administration of the system can be achieved remotely and access speed is greatly increased, which means that an extremely efficient system can be operated.

A strategic partnership to operate the centre

Without a strategic partner in the form of the Internet Training Institute of Australia (ITI), the centre would not operate as effectively as it does.

The Internet Training Institute was set up by visionary librarians in Melbourne to assist in the training of library staff in the use of the internet and with a view to encouraging libraries, including public libraries, to offer internet training as part of their services.

ITI believed that there was a role for public libraries to play in training the public to use the internet effectively as an access point to information. It believed that by instituting internet training in public libraries, the libraries would be able to take advantage of generating revenue for the library, assisting internet users to be more efficient, maximising existing library resources and lead the way in electronic information access.

As the fastest growing industry in the world, the internet allows instant access to a wealth of information which was previously unavailable or slow to arrive. As more information was being produced and made accessible on the internet, ITI judged that it would become increasingly difficult for people to understand how to locate the information that was available.

ITI considered that this scenario was almost the same as people faced when they were looking for a particular book, and that this was when people sought the assistance of a professional librarian. The only change in this scenario was that the information was available online rather than in the printed form. Librarians remained ideally placed to assist people to access this information.

The Internet Training Institute was established to provide libraries with the tools to train internet users on how to access and use the internet in the most efficient way. However, ITI also believed that although libraries could charge for this service, they should maintain a basic service accessible to clients who could not afford to pay.

This, too, is the policy of City of Stifling libraries. The city provides free internet access in all libraries, but also planned the internet training centre to provide training for people on a fee basis, to enable them to access the internet more effectively for both business and pleasure. By charging those who could afford to pay for this service, the funding produced would hopefully support the centre and enable the libraries to offer some training to those who could not afford to pay for specialist training, by utilising the services of the internet trainer in public workshops and information sessions.

The City of Stifling joined the Internet Training Institute because it believed the services that the institute offered would enable it to better operate its information technology centre and to have access to a pool of expertise and marketing that it would be unable to provide itself. The cost of ITI membership is a $2000 joining fee, and an annual fee of $2000 plus a 15% commission on training sessions.

What services does the Internet Training Institute provide?

The Internet Training Institute provides the following services for its member libraries

* train the trainer program

* manuals to assist in the running of training sessions

* an update service on internet resources and developments

* marketing and promotional activities

* a link to Telstra Big Pond, the Australian internet provider, which advises clients of the availability of training at registered ITI centres

* an offer of free hours on Telstra Big Pond for clients who attend the centre and do not have access to an internet provider, to enable them to try out the service from their own home computer

* help desk facilities

Internet Training Institute train the trainer courses

ITI offers library staff the opportunity to participate in train the trainer classes, given by librarians with extensive expertise in internet training and online use. The courses provide staff with the opportunity to learn how to present training for library clients and cover issues related to management, hardware, software and content issues.

The city sent one person from each library to this course in addition to the attendance of the IT centre trainer.

Appointing and training a trainer

Whilst one option was to take an existing library staff member and put him or her through a train the trainer course, the second and preferred option was to advertise for an internet trainer who would take full responsibility for the centre, through the open market. With the assistance of the Internet Training Institute, a duty statement was drawn up and an advertisement was placed in the daily state newspaper.

An excellent response was received. The variety of applicants was interesting. Those who expressed interest in the position had expertise ranging from information technology specialists who were looking for a change in career, to librarians with some internet expertise. Interviews were conducted and the chosen candidate was a person who had been operating a training centre for a local university which had been closed down as the university reengineered its operations.

However, our chosen applicant accepted a better paid position at a rival university. Our next preferred applicant was teacher trained and had operated a regional network for the education department which also had a training centre for country school teachers on how to operate networks and use the internet in schools. He was looking for a career change and had excellent teaching qualifications as well as experience in writing curriculum materials, operating networks and creating web pages.

Upon appointment we negotiated with the Internet Training Institute to conduct train the trainer classes for our new trainer and one staff member from each of the libraries in Stirling. These classes were well received by staff and very useful for our trainer as it enabled him to establish a working relationship with Internet Training Institute personnel who are located in Melbourne.

The first eight months of operation

The centre commenced operation in October 1997. Since then, over 200 people have undertaken paid training courses. The majority of the people trained in the first eight months were City of Stifling staff and library staff from other local authorities who came to learn how to search the internet in order to provide better service to clients in their own libraries. The rest were people who learned about the centre because they had joined Telstra Big Pond as their internet provider, or who had learned about the courses provided at the centre from advertising in other City of Stirling libraries, through articles in the press or from coming to the free information on using the internet seminars conducted in the libraries.

In eight months a total of $8231 was earned, which included sales of manuals and room hire to several groups. Operating expenditure for the centre, including the trainer's salary and on costs and payments to ITI, was $42,100. The net operational cost for the eight months was thus $33,869.

The major problem is marketing the centre effectively and finding a price to suit the market. Standard charges have varied between $30 to $125, with the most common charge being $79 for the searching the internet course. One of the difficulties has been the perception of people that because the training is held in a public library it will be free or very cheap.

Another problem, which we were aware of when the centre was planned, is that it is not a high socioeconomic area. However, if there was to be a centre, it had to be where there was a new library building being constructed. Some people who have contacted the centre have also not wanted to travel into the suburbs or north of the Swan River, which creates a perceived barrier between those who live in the southern suburbs and those who live in the of Perth metropolitan area.

Marketing the centre

To promote the centre each of the city's libraries has fliers on the centre and has held information sessions and seminars on the internet at which people have been handed information.

The city has a regular meeting with the principals from the schools in the local authority area, and one meeting was held in the IT centre to allow the principals to view the centre and meet the trainer. However, schools have very low budgets for training and all hoped that the centre would offer free training to their staff.

The centre has sent numerous press releases to local newspapers and some clients have come from these. An advertisement in a specialist newspaper, aimed at the elderly, provided a number of clients. The centre is now making contact with the local business association to let its members know of the service it offers. There has also been a substantial number of clients who have found out about the centre through the advertising on Telstra Big Pond through the Internet Training Institute.

The marketing of the IT centre will have to be more aggressive than that which libraries usually undertake. As an experiment, the IT centre took a stand at a local women's health and lifestyle expo and attracted quite a few interested people on the day who wanted to have a `surf' on the internet and find out more about it. The centre offered a discount to people who present a flier from the expo and will be able to track how many people come to the centre as a result.

The manager of libraries has recently applied for a grant being offered by the state's Department for the Aging. The grant funds are available during the Year of Older Persons and the submission requested funding to underwrite the majority of the cost of teaching fifty older people how to use the internet. Results of the submission are not known at the time of writing this paper.

Courses offered by the centre

The courses offered by the centre are gradually increasing as time permits the preparation of new course content.

The centre started with offering

* introduction to the internet

* internet basics

* searching the internet effectively

* using electronic mail effectively

It then expanded to offer

* genealogy on the net

* health resources on the net

There are also requests for other computer based training such as Word for Windows, Excel, Mind Your Own Business and PC Troubleshooting. These requests will need to be assessed as to the potential market, cost of writing courses and producing manuals and possibly the hiring of additional staff with teaching skills in these areas.

Who is using the centre

The first clients of the centre were staff of the City of Stirling. These people came from all departments, as well as from the library. As the city was networking all its offices and giving many of its staff access to the internet, they needed to know how to use the tool effectively.

The next largest group of people to utilise the centre has been librarians from other local authorities who were connecting their libraries to the internet. These people needed to know how to use the internet effectively as a reference tool and for assisting clients in their libraries who were using their public access internet terminals. Because the searching the internet effectively course covered all that librarians needed to know to assist them in their work, this became exceptionally popular with library staff.

The centre also hosted librarians from the state parliamentary library for training and was used by ITI to conduct train the trainer classes for another local authority which was opening an ITI centre in the southern part of the metropolitan area.

The centre has been hired as a training venue by several organisations who want to train staff in computer software as there are very few commercial centres where twelve people can be trained together, each with access to their own terminal. There is a set fee for the hire of the centre. This includes morning or afternoon tea and access to the trainer if required.

Assessment of the success of the centre

The provision of such a facility in a public environment has been a success and offers further opportunities for innovation as a training centre.

As a business unit, the centre has cost the city $33,499 to operate in the first eight months. However, more aggressive marketing and a widening of the range of courses should see an improvement in the situation.

The first two months of operation in the current financial year has seen $2637 revenue and bookings are made for the current month's courses.

The question of operating fee based services in public libraries, and the opportunity to make money on these is still a vexed one. However, the aim of the centre was to bring the opportunity of learning about the information potential of the internet to the public. In this outcome, the centre has proven itself.

Expanding the products offered by the centre

Discussions have taken place with the SoundHouse movement, already active in Victoria and New South Wales, to extend the role of the IT centre with equipment to enable the users to create music through technology. A special access kit which is transportable permits the computers to be used to make music and compose original compositions.

This added dimension to use of the centre has been explored, and the centre has applied to the Lotteries Commission for a grant to purchase a SoundHouse unit. This means that both the gifted child and the student with physical or intellectual disabilities can participate in making music, and would make the centre an even more used facility for local teachers.


Public libraries need to provide their clients with access to training so that they can use information technology, and enhance their overall information literacy. Unless public libraries provide them with the skills to navigate, explore and evaluate the information sources on the internet and cd-roms, much of the most current information will be inaccessible to many citizens. In addition public libraries need to consider the training of their staff, so that they too can utilise global information.

The inclusion of an internet training centre in a library is certainly one way of doing this, so that both staff and clients can be exposed to professional training in a nonthreatening environment. Operation of an internet training unit as a business unit was perceived to be the best way for the City of Stifling to approach the challenge of both staff and clients learning to exploit the new technology. The centre is a success, but to assume that such a centre will pay for itself and support other activities, particularly in the early stages of its development, is over ambitious and unrealistic.

To progress its centre, the City of Stifling will need to embark on an aggressive marketing campaign, look at the timing of its classes to attract people who work and expand its products to continue to attract clients. This takes time. To date, this has been in short supply for both the manager of library services and the internet trainer.

If a library service were to embark on a similar facility and had a library program and marketing person on the staff, this problem would be partly solved. At Stirling, the library service is just too leanly staffed to enable it to spend the time to do the legwork to market and promote the centre. However, it will certainly be spending more time in 1999 on the work needed to make the centre more viable financially.

Apart from the business unit aspect of the centre, there is no doubt that as a community facility the centre is a winner. If there were no charges the training room would be filled daily. However, at the present time the centre must be shown to make some income.

As an additional facility in the library service it has proved to be well worthwhile, and an innovation that the library service is glad that it conceived and introduced.


[1] Navigating the economy of knowledge: a national survey of users and non-users of state and public libraries Brisbane, Griffith University 1995

[2] 2020 vision: towards the libraries of the future Brisbane, Libraries Working Group of the Cultural Ministers' Council 1996

[3] ibid p2

[4] ibid p2

Kay Poustie BA FALIA AIMM holds the position of Manager, Libraries, Arts and Culture at the City of Stirling in Western Australia. Kay is a member of the Bertelsmann International Network of Public Libraries, an international group of fourteen public library managers responsible for undertaking research on issues pertinent to public libraries. A member of the Library Board of Western Australia, she is also a Director of Aima Training and Consultancy Ltd, and has held various positions in the Australian Library and Information Association. Address: City of Stifling Civic Place Stifling Western Australia 6061
COPYRIGHT 1999 Auslib Press Party Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Poustie, Kay
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 1999

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