Anyone who thinks libraries are doomed like the dodo bird is dead wrong. I can say this confidently after spending three days with 500 librarians and library trustees from across BC and beyond.
The occasion was the BC Library Conference 2012 in Richmond. I didn’t smell a whiff of musty library books, see a shushing librarian, or hear a reactionary word.
Rather, I heard about libraries as the cradles of democracy, the defenders of freedom of expression, and the great equalizers of knowledge and information free to all. More concretely, they were described as community living rooms and as learning commons.
Clearly the roles of libraries are evolving, and in fact revolving right out the library doors into the community. Two major conference themes were collaboration and innovation. How to work together in this exciting new digital age, not resist or fear it.
Libraries have long demonstrated collaboration. Interlibrary loans are an early example. The BC OneCard allows you to borrow books from any library in BC. Regional library federations (like our own Kootenay Library Federation) work to support collective library needs.
And the newer BC Libraries Co-operative is just brilliant. As we know well in the Kootenays, the co-op model brings many benefits. In this case, the co-op has in-house expertise to negotiate licensing agreements and provide ongoing support for everything from e-books to software. This allows libraries to operate more efficiently and economically.
When it comes to innovation, well, hold on to your hat. Examples abound. How about opening the library at midnight to release the new Harry Potter books with a little celebration? Or the library being the place to check out gardening tools for the community garden nearby?
Innovation includes looking outside the library for ideas. Like consulting retailers for advice on product display, theft protection, or even upselling (you want to check out this book; how about this other one too?). Or, building on established recycling habits by having separate book return slots for children’s and adults’ books, or different languages. A time-saver for librarians!
We had a visit from LiLi – a specially designed vehicle that extends the reach of the Fraser Valley Regional Library to underserved people. It’s not a bookmobile – it has a gadget bar with laptop computers, e-book readers, playaway books and more. It has a killer sound system and a giant tv screen and xBox games.
LiLi is most often found at seniors’ homes, transition houses, food banks and soup kitchens, as well as festivals and parades. It’s about community development, adult literacy and access to information. And it’s the first project of its kind in the library world.
Of course my favourite session, which I spent grinning from ear to ear, was presented by our librarian June Stockdale and Fernie librarian Emma Dressler. Their topic was ‘libraries connect with communities.’ Emma talked about holding children’s storytimes at seniors’ homes, and about having bookshelves on wheels so the library can host community events. Everyone’s favourite was the community songwriting process to create a theme song for the library!
In Nelson’s case, June spoke about our library’s partnerships with seniors’ groups, the school district, Touchstones and the Heritage Credit Union (which provides book pick-up and returns in the Slocan Valley). And much more.
It was a great presentation, and had people sitting near me saying — wow, that gave me goosebumps. Soon you’ll be able to see the presentation on YouTube!
I was really pleased to be elected to the board of the BC Library Trustees Association, joining (among others) a Revenue Canada auditor from Prince George, a young archaeologist from Fort St. John, a biotech developer from Vancouver and a retired lawyer from Coquitlam.
Based simply on that diversity of people who believe in an exciting and evolving future for libraries and are willing to work for it, survival is assured. And that doesn’t even account for those feisty librarians!
Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares this space with her colleagues around the table