Where the public is, not where you want them: Mobile and innovative point-of-need public library services in Canada (F1)
Anne O’Sullivan, Service Design Lead, School Age Children, Calgary Public Library
Elaine Jones, Manager, Youth Services Division, Edmonton Public Library
Elizabeth Sutter, Manager, Mobile Library Services, Toronto Public Library
Diana Balbar, Manager, Bookmobile Services, Strathcona County Library
Heather Scoular, Manager, Mission Library and Outreach Services, Fraser Valley Regional Library
Alexandra Yarrow, Manager, Alternative Services, Ottawa Public Library
Wendy Kearns, Annapolis Valley Regional Library
Article by: Zoe Dickinson, MLIS Candidate, Dalhousie University
Canada’s library community is in the midst of reinventing itself. Although the guiding topic of this year’s CLA conference was privacy and security, a common thread between many sessions was innovation: digital innovation, innovative programs, and innovative outreach. Session F1 was no exception. Nine speakers from public library systems across Canada were packed into just one hour, showcasing the latest in point-of-need library services. Community outreach is not a new idea; bookmobiles have been around for decades. However, the enthusiasm for constructive change found everywhere throughout the conference was very much present in this session. Each speaker was passionate about pushing beyond their libraries’ comfort zones, and integrating with their communities in new and unexpected ways.
As speaker Heather Scoular said, it’s all about “stereotype-shattering”: recognizing and moving beyond limiting perceptions, not only of libraries, but also of library patrons. At Fraser Valley Regional Library, they are doing this by reconsidering not only their own self-image, but also their ideas about where their potential patrons might be. By popping up in unexpected places, like homeless shelters, hockey games and hardware stores, they have challenged their own preconceptions about the type of people who might need and enjoy library services.
The Calgary Public Library system is taking this idea even further by questioning some very basic assumptions about what is necessary to make a library. Their newest branch, Rocky Ridge Library, will be part of a recreation facility, and will remain open during all of the facility’s hours, both with and without staff. It will be staffed strategically to offer customer service, but will remain open to the public even when staff is not present, for meetings and technology use, as well as book borrowing with an automated kiosk. The Calgary library system is putting trust in its community with this new initiative, in order to be accessible not only where they are needed, but also when they are needed.
Mobile library services are not only methods for reaching out in new and interesting ways; they are also forums for testing other types of library innovation in a small-scale, low-risk way. In the Edmonton Public Library system, their four “epl2go” vans are decidedly not bookmobiles, but rather flexible, mobile library spaces which can be remade at a moment’s notice to try new ideas.
This session was important because it focused on change at the very heart of what makes libraries such beloved public institutions: people. Digital innovation is essential for libraries, but community service is the true core of what we do. Innovation and self-reflection in that arena must keep pace with technological changes, otherwise those changes will not be meaningful. Hearing about all nine speakers’ successes and challenges left me with the conviction that Canada’s public libraries have the courage to break boundaries and connect with their communities wherever, whenever, and however necessary.