Tomes to triathlons

Photo of Mal Booth standing under art installation of hanging books

Mal Booth, photo by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • UTS Librarian Mal is overseeing the installation of an automated library retrieval system (LRS) under Alumni Green
  • The LRS will be a key feature of the new library, opening in 2017
  • The former intelligence analyst and Director of the UTS Library Education and Research Services Unit has completed the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon four times

“Being a librarian is about connecting people with knowledge and culture,” says University Librarian Mal Booth. He believes when the new library opens in 2017 it will be an inspiring space for people to make those connections. 

The relocation of the library to building 2 is part of the UTS City Campus Master Plan. The project includes the installation of an automated library retrieval system (LRS) under Alumni Green. “This is the chance to develop a new model,” says Booth. “Libraries need to experiment, not just do what everyone has done forever.”

Booth doesn’t believe in sitting back and sticking with routine. His interest in knowledge and development has led him to intellectually challenging roles including nine years as an army officer and 11 years as an intelligence analyst. Booth followed these roles with 12 years at the Australian War Memorial where he was head of the research centre.

He also coaches swimming in his spare time, and has competed four times in the demanding Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon which consists of a 3.8 kilometre swim, 180 kilometre cycle and 42.2 kilometre run in hot, windy and humid conditions.

Booth was formally appointed UTS Librarian in June this year, having acted in the role since July 2011. Prior to that, he spent two years working as the Director of the UTS Library Education and Research Services Unit.

Former UTS Librarian Alex Byrne, now State Librarian for NSW, developed the concept to use the LRS as part of the new library. Booth and his team are now dealing with the
project management and coordination for the system installation and the loading of the books into electronic stackers.

Booth’s vision for the use of the LRS, when it becomes operational in 2014, is not simply about achieving efficient storage. By moving many of the books underground, the LRS will allow more imaginative use of the spaces where staff and students work, study and look at displays.

“LRS helps change the library’s design focus from storing books to making space for people,” he says. “The library is not a hallowed space, it’s for people to work in.”

The LRS will use automation and storage bins to reduce the book storage space needed to a quarter, or possibly one sixth, of the usual requirement. Around 250 000 books that are most used will be easier to find in the library, with up to a million stored underground.

However, says Booth, “We want to introduce discovery tools so people still have a way to browse the entire collection.”

Likewise, Booth wants to encourage all library users to browse their increasing cultural collection, which includes the recently acquired Norman Lindsay Collection. “We need to build our design related cultural collection.

“Design is represented in many of our faculties, and we need to ensure we retain a record of what people did when they were at UTS.”

Booth wants the library to be able to adapt and change to support the way education is moving. “The way people learn and work is evolving and changing,” he says. “Librarians work in a dynamic environment and approaching change with a sense of urgency is important.”