Greetings from the new look main reading room of the National Library of Australia. The marble gallery in front of the reading room has been shortened to make more space in the reading room itself. There is a reception desk to one side just inside the door, and a row of walk-up terminals on a bench on the wall opposite. The space in between has two rows of round tables with arm chairs.
A head high partition behind the information desk is backed by new book and periodical racks. The racks are lit, and have glass fronts, making it much easier to browse than the old wooden racks.
The layout reminds me of an airport business lounge, or the learning commons of an up-market university and is well thought out and comfortable. On a cold and gloomy Canberra winder's day the reading room is comfortable and calm, with a scholarly but welcoming atmosphere.
While the furniture in the new foyer looks good, I found it uncomfortable. The chairs appear to be out of proportion, with legs which are too long and backs too short. The tables have a very thick central pillar, which makes it impossible for me to place my legs comfortably under the table. The library might wish to replace the arm chairs with the same gas lift models used at computer desks, but with the optional arms bolted on. The table supports have been designed for concealing cabling to the desktop, but this has not been utilized and so slim slim supported could be used.
One lack in the new layout are any breakout rooms for group work. The Petherick Reading Room remains unchanged, and mostly unused, at the rear of the reading room. The library might give some thought to making that space available for casual use, rather than having specific desks reserved for researchers. The current system seems to result in about 90% of the Petherick Room being unused most of the time. This could be changed to a "hot desk" system, to make better use of the space. Researchers could have priority, but casual users could otherwise use the space.
The refurbished exhibition space of the library is due to open 8 October 2011.