As part of my current job I monitor media stories about libraries – both at home and overseas.
While the stories from England tend to be dominated by cuts and closures, there are some interesting stories coming out of Canada at the moment. The journalists are clear that this is despite challenging economic times, and point to some initiatives which definitely bear closer investigation.
Recent stories include Calgary, where fees have been removed (people used to pay $12 per year) and membership has risen. This is not put down just to the free cards, but also to outreach programmes and incentives.
Residents in Halifax have been enjoying a wonderful new library – with double the number of predicted visitors. Interesting to note, visits to branch libraries have also been increasing – so the star newcomer hasn’t sucked in all visitors, but has perhaps inspired people to check out their local library too.
One idea that caught my attention apparently started off as a project by a designer for his library-loving girlfriend. He made her a passport, which included an entry for each of the 100 libraries in Toronto – figuring that while people can find out the location, opening times etc online, people also like something they can hold in their hand. He drew each library, and included facts and things to look out for. This booklet caught the attention of friends and he has produced more – turning it into a sort of treasure hunt with clues to find that mean participants need to go into each library to find answers, and get a stamp. Fun – I’d love to see one of those for London, Birmingham, or any region with a number of libraries!
Reading about this reminded me of other things I’ve read recently about encouraging others to visit libraries and record their activities. How gamification might work for libraries – fuel for another blog.
Another story from Toronto reminded me of a project I heard about about in Warwickshire, where a book loan machine has been put in a busy hospital. The rationale being that people often find themselves in a place for longer than expected – and might need something to read. They can return the books to their local library when they get home. Librarians in Toronto followed this train of thought and have put a kiosk into a busy commuter station.
A story from Vancouver talks about the support libraries offer to people newly arrived in Canada: Not just for books talks about language classes, business advice and job search workshops. Not a million miles from the statement put out by Society of Chief Librarians on how libraries here are ideally placed to support refugees Library leaders confirm the welcome offered to refugees and asylum-seekers from public libraries (did anyone see this picked up in the mainstream news?)
Finally, another article started off talking about Halifax, saying “Halifax Central Library, with its cafés, auditorium space and video-gaming section, challenges every traditional notion of what these public spaces should be.” It goes on to talk about other Canadian libraries, including plans for redevelopment of the central library in Ottawa, and concludes: “As for the future of libraries, Tierney [Board Chair in Ottawa] says the institutions are at risk of going the way of video rental shops if they don’t continue to embrace new ideas: “If we don’t adapt, you’re going to turn into a Blockbuster where the service you’re offering doesn’t work anymore.
I’ve also seen encouraging stories from Scandinavia, and Malta. I think besides analysing the CIPFA statistics (currently each presentation I’ve seen raises more questions than answers) and looking at including wider sources of evidence about the people and place, we should also be looking overseas both for comparison and evidence.