A studious application of AV
The new Melton Library and Learning Hub demonstrates what’s possible when design and technology work together in the service of a common good. Jason Allen reports.
Embracing the values of sustainability, accessibility and unity, the Melton Library and Learning Hub transcends the sum of its basic functions and becomes a place where a community unites through communication.
The building was designed by award-winning architects FJMT and opened mid June 2013. It is the first 5 star Green Star library in Australia, achieving an 82% reduction in water use and 43.7% reduction in CO2 emissions when compared to similar facilities. Intelligent management of lighting and electrical systems plus strict standards of sustainability in relation to materials cement its eco credentials.
The function of the community library has shifted over the last decades from primarily a resource of printed material to a centre for accessing all forms of information and sharing it with others. As such, the centre not only houses over 68,000 titles across multiple media, but also incorporates integrated meeting spaces, an auditorium, a gaming area, youth chill-out space, interactive children’s area, computer access and digital signage.
ICT and AV specialists CHW Consulting designed the extensive AV backbone of the centre with an eye to making what can be complicated systems as simple as possible to operate for any member of the public. Multiple spaces utilise projectors, screens, loudspeakers, microphones, playback inputs, wired and wireless computer connectivity, gaming and broadcast television to address the broadest needs of the Library’s community. To unify and streamline the experience for the user, AMX Modero touch screens and keypads present a graphic and tactile interface that is accessible to anybody.
Working with CHW’s design and in consultation with the library’s staff, Soundcorp’s account manager Nick Jebson and project manager Nash Summers were tasked with overseeing the installation and commissioning of the building’s AV. With assistance from Soundcorp’s AMX programming guru Martin Smith, they took the brief and ensured the community’s needs were best served by every piece of technology included in the project.
“The scope was to make it as user-friendly as possible and as robust as we could”, explained Nash.
“It’s being used by people from all walks of life, so it had to be easy to use”, Nick added.
The scale of the project’s AV component is impressive. Seventeen different areas contain individual systems, from meetings rooms to full auditoria, with some systems switching between up to ten sources. All vision is in full 1080p High Definition, with video, audio and data carried via HDMI throughout.
With so many active areas being used for different purposes, the challenge was to keep the facility functioning smoothly.
“We came up with a system in which the librarian can either enable or lock-off areas from a central location” said Martin Smith.
“All public areas can be controlled via an AMX touch screen from the main reception desk. When the job was done and the staff walked in, they said ‘Great, this is exactly what we needed it to do.’ That was great for us because this wasn’t an explicit part of the brief.”
The central processors of the AV system are the new AMX Enova DVX-3150HD digital Integrated Presentation Switchers. AMX’s Jared Walley assisted Martin with integrating some of the new features they include, such as SmartScaleTM, an AMX technology that automatically responds to the display’s EDID information and scales the video to the best resolution and video parameters for that display. Smaller AMX NI-700 NetLinx Integrated Controllers were distributed around the facility behind their respective display panels. A combination of RS232 and Ethernet control means all functionality is accessible via the AV network rack, which is integrated to the EWIS. Five LCD panels comprise the digital signage element of the installation, with content scheduled to media players integrated with the screens.
The converged, networked backbone of the system is its real strength. This was an all-digital installation, with no analogue cabling used to distribute signal. HDMI was converted to AMX’s DXLink transport and delivered via twisted-pair cabling throughout the building, with some runs up to 60 metres. This offers great cost and environmental savings compared to the huge runs of copper that would have been required. Even the digital cabling has the green tick – halogen-free insulation was chosen to eliminate the release of toxic chemicals in the event of fire, or their slow leeching over time. Convergence with the EWIS system represents even more efficiency, eliminating the doubling up of cabling and processing that is the norm in most buildings.
Some thoughtful features have been programmed into the building’s services. Motion detectors in every room activate lighting when people enter and shut down again on exit, increasing energy efficiency. Multiple lighting presets are also available to trigger manually. Individual low-spill Hearing Induction Loops have been incorporated into all areas, most impressively into three small adjoining meeting rooms. Signal spill between the three rooms is controlled by laying an extra Induction Loop around each perimeter and running it out-of-phase to the primary Induction Loop, hence causing signal cancellation at the boundaries.
Issues of accessibility have been taken into account for all patrons. Sue Robertson, long-serving library technician at Melton, has been running Story Time for children for years. The new children’s area features a 70 inch LCD screen, dedicated ceiling speakers, lapel mic and DVD player. A veteran of running nursery rhyme sessions from large hand-written cardboard sheets, she’s found the new technology has enabled her to better serve her audience.
“We now call ourselves an Inclusive Story Time” said Sue.
“We run everything from a PowerPoint on the screen. It has a running order of what we’re doing and all the words to the songs. It helps children with special needs who really benefit from knowing what’s next and exactly what we’re doing. Last week, we had upwards of 60 children.”
With 60 enthusiastic kids attending Story Time, this is not the enforced silence of the library of the past.
“Libraries are changing. They’re calling them the ‘Second Lounge Room of the Community’ now” explained Sue.
One of this Community Lounge Room’s most popular spots is the Gaming Area, which has three PlayStation3s hooked up to three LCD screens. Teens bring in their own games or can borrow from the library’s collection. Dual headphone connections at each station let them play against each other without disturbing the students at the study tables nearby.
Given the sometimes controversial reputation of video games in the community, what does Sue think of the inclusion in the new centre?
“It brings the kids to the library” she said positively, “and hopefully, while they’re in here, they grab a book and realise it’s a nice, safe place to hang out. A lot of students are coming in after school sitting down at the tables and actually studying!”
Programmer Martin Smith agreed: “We spent a lot of time thinking about the things like the gaming areas that made job different”, he continued.
“We talked to everybody involved, and integrated the community feel, right down to the Melton logo, into the design. It’s a true community centre and a great piece of community infrastructure. The times I’ve gone back to do follow-up work, we’ve had trouble getting into the meeting rooms because they’re so busy.”
Both the reliability and accessibility of the system are proving the keys to its success. This hasn’t been an easy thing to achieve, considering that significant amounts of legacy connections such as VGA needed to be integrated with HDMI, wired and wireless LAN, lighting and peripherals and then automated to a level where any community group could hold an AV-supported meeting with no staff present.
“On the surface it appears simple, but underneath, it’s quite complicated” Martin shared.
“What makes it work is simplicity and reliability of the touch screens and keypads; this is where high-end control systems leave the other options for dead. They increase system reliability in the end.”
This has led to more people using the library for more purposes more often. Author events, movie nights, ESL courses and historical society presentations all run regularly without staff intervention.
“It’s so straightforward and really easy” agreed Sue.
“People walk in, the lights turn on, connect their laptops by wireless or HDMI and off they go.”
The enhanced facilities now enable the library to offer a wider range a services to a wider range of people, further uniting the community.
“Next year we’re holding more internet, iPad and eReader courses”, Sue enthused.
The future of the library is integrated.