Role of the library
The Public Library is located in the central interior of British Columbia, Canada serving both the city of P and the greater northern region. P is known as the gateway to the North as it is the largest city in the north of British Columbia. As a result, many smaller northern communities use P’s facilities and resources, including the public library, on a regular basis. P is also the centre for industry, transportation, and education in the North resulting in an ever-growing population of diverse residents, which the library is tasked to serve through its collection, services and programs.
The library consists of two branches that serve the 90,000-person community and non-community members; a central branch located in the central business district and a smaller satellite branch located in a neighbouring farming suburb. Both locations are embracing a change in the role of the library from a place that houses resources and materials, to a space for the community – made possible through an increase in multipurpose rooms and spaces in the library including a newly added Knowledge Garden.
Besides its physical locations and collections, the library also plays a major role in community outreach with a priority on equitable access for all community members through a Library Gay-Straight Alliance, home service program for the elderly, Civic Literacy Project, and a Books for Baby initiative promoting early childhood literacy, among others.
The P Public Library has a large and diverse collection that has been changing in recent years to reflect the changing needs of its users. The library houses a large print collection consisting of adult, teen, junior, and children’s hardcover fiction, paperback fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, local history, and foreign language texts. The fiction and non-fiction collections are collected through a patron-driven collecting policy and weeded to maintain its relevancy and preserve space. The patron-driven collection policy is proving to be very successful in collecting materials the users directly want to read and has resulting in good collection circulation even as some users turn to electronic materials. The teen collection also involves the library’s Youth Advisory Board, made up of 30 local teens, to aid in material selection.
The library also houses more than 100 print periodicals; however, circulation has shown these to be in a sharp decline. This poor circulation could be a result of the most current issue being designated to in-house use only and could be increased by removing this provision or better tracking in-house use. Conversely, the small selection of junior periodicals are well used, which reveals children will continue to need physical access to periodicals while adults can be changed to a digital collection.
The library also collects for its local history collection, which has increased in use as the city approaches its 150 year anniversary, as well as serving as a depository for documents on a proposed gas pipe line developments that will greatly affect the city and surrounding area. Despite this recent increased usage, many of the materials are not used and could be moved to storage to restore needed shelf space.
The library’s non-print collections include audio CD, audiobook, DVD, and a recently added video game collection. Converse to audio CD declining collection trends, selectors have increased junior and teen audiobooks on CD in the library’s collection due to high user demand. This shows physical formats still have a place in the library’s collection policy and should not be given up for digital formats. Many library staff believes the library’s extensive DVD collection is becoming the main collection bringing users into the library and as such has a large budget to keep it up to date with current titles.
Lastly, the library has a growing digital collection of fiction and non-fiction eBooks and audiobooks, periodicals, and music. The library subscribes to provincially funded databases as well as a patron-driven eBook acquisitions initiative. Unfortunately, the provincial eBook and audiobook database has very high waitlists for most titles and limited titles available for users. The digital collection is a work in progress that needs to be increased to meet user demands.
Access provided to the collection
Improvements in access to the collection have been a focus of the library in the past several years. One such improvement has been in the updating of the OPAC in 2013 to a new Enterprise OPAC. As a result of the update, some new social and user features are now accessible such as reviews, read-alikes, and Facebook linking, although further updates are needed to provide a better social OPAC.
Another improvement has been in its card system for borrowing materials. While valid identification proving residency in catchment area is needed for a full card with unlimited checkouts, these rules have been relaxed to allow library access to itinerant residents of the community who cannot present identification or a permanent address. This amnesty was recognised by the city as an initiative that opened the collection to all members of the community regardless of their resident status. Similarly, for residents of outlying communities not in the P Public Library’s catchment area, the introduction of the “BC Onecard” allows these residents to also access and checkout materials from the library. These two recent initiatives have allowed greater access to the library’s extensive collection and helped circulation numbers, although effects on material availability for catchment residents is yet to be assessed.
The library also participates in an extensive provincial and national inter-library loan system. Being a more isolated northern community, the ILL system allows for equity of access to resources for PPL users that others living in more densely populated areas could get from visiting several libraries within a close distance. Unfortunately, I observed that many users do not know this service is available to them, and available free of cost, suggesting a gap in potential users for the library.
Staffing and management
The staffing and management at the library is currently undergoing a major shift following the retirement of several staff in key positions, which has allowed a restructuring of several positions and changes in the management structure and communication flow. The most notable restructure was in the children’s department with the addition of a teen librarian and teen reader’s advisor to manage the teen collection and teen programming as a separate entity to the children’s department.
Another restructure was seen in the dispersing of the Support Service Coordinator’s duties to the various librarians. This gave the librarians more of a supervisory role in the running of their respective areas and established better communication flow between management, staff, and the running of the library. As a result of this change, librarians now meet twice a month to collaborate on projects, initiatives and the direction of the library and has encouraged leadership and ownership to be embraced by all librarians in partnership with management.
Although both the Chief Librarian and Public Service Manager are both in interim acting positions while permanent replacements can be explored, the changes they have both enacted over the past year have greatly improved the workflows, communication, and general running the library indicating they are ready to help take the P Public Library forward into the future.
Meeting user needs
As the major hub of the North, P Public Library is working well to recognise and meet users needs through its collections, programming, services, and physical space. Its five year strategic plan (2011-2015) focuses on “people, place, and partners” to grow the public library into one that better serves its community.
The library’s collections are currently serving users very well, a result of its patron-driven collection policy. Materials can be requested by users at any reference desk in the library or through an online submittable form. The library’s extensive graphic novel collection is an example of a collection that was developed specifically from user requests and is now a widely circulating collection. Another collection that was developed based on user requests is the video game collection. It is a very successful collection, however, due to the constantly upgrading nature of video game consuls, many users have already started requesting games for newer models of consul that the library currently doesn’t collect for. A further collection that developed from the library listening to common user comments is the Quick Flicks DVD collection. Users were commenting that they were often on hold for several weeks, even past a month, for new release DVD titles, which lead to the Quick Flicks collection. DVDs in this collection, unlike the regular DVD collection’s 7-day return policy, can only be checked out for 3 days maximum with no renewal option and heavier fines for late returns. Coupled with the purchase of extra copies, this collection has proven its worth and users have voiced their appreciation for the collection. The library is clearly delivering on its efforts to put user needs first in terms of collecting.
The library’s programming is also contributing to meet the needs of the users. While the children’s programming continues to be well attended, more teen and adult programming was added based on user feedback in these age brackets. The library’s Gay-Straight Alliance for teens is one example of how the library developed programming based on what teen users wanted to see in the library. For adults, Read-Dating, a Human Library, as well as downtown heritage walking tours run by the local history librarian were developed in order to provide programming for adult users and have been a great success with plans to make them annual events. These adult programs, however, could be further improved by more rigorous promotion to ensure new users are discovered rather than filling them with already loyal users.
Lastly, while library services are doing well to support user needs, such as the library home service, outreach services, tech services, and online services, a second branch is greatly needed in the city’s ever growing western suburbs. Much of the city’s population now resides in the west and many comment they do not visit the library due to its downtown location and branch location to the north of the city.
Overall, the library is successfully striving to meet the needs of the users through listening and acting on what they hear. Users are the priority of the library and the library is willing to adapt to be able to meet the users’ needs as best as it can.
Activities and programs
Over the 10-day placement period, I was involved in many activities and programs targeted at different age groups and community members. Falling on the cusp of the summer vacation period, programs were targeted on summer reading for children and adults, user education, and fun summer entertainment activities for children and teens. I was also involved in many day-to-day activities that keep the library running.
The bulk of the programming I was involved in was with the children’s and teens’ department as this was the area that interested me most as a teacher librarian. As a teacher, I have been extremely interested in the popularity of the computer game Mindcraft and how it can be used in the classroom for learning purposes. The library was piloting its first program during my placement using an educator’s license of the game for teens and pre-teens and I was given a chance to see how teens play the game collaboratively with the librarian as moderator. I learnt that with the right restriction on the game and with a collaborative goal in mind the game can be a stimulating problem solving and collaborative tool for a school.
Other teen and pre-teen programs I was involved with were a “life-sized” battleship game and an after hours lock-in Nerf war. Both activities showed me how the library is used as a space for young people from the various different schools to come together to meet new people and enjoy free, fun activities. Experiencing these activities through the eyes of a teacher librarian, I was reminded how the library can be a tool to connect students who may not otherwise have a chance to meet. It inspired me to want to include non-academic programs in my future school library to create a safe and fun space for all types of students to enjoy. Alternatively, in the future I see a great benefit from promoting public library programs within a school to let students know these programs are available to them free of charge.
The main children’s program I was involved with was the summer reading challenge where students earn a donation for each book read to go toward emergency disaster relief cause. Every year the library has a global awareness aspect to its summer reading program and every year they have more children participating to earn money for the charity. The addition of the global awareness aspect to a reading program adds an element that I hope to inspire in my own future school library as the children were so much more eager to read and come to the library everyday to earn their silver coins and to replenish their books. It is a terrific way to encourage reading and teach children global awareness.
For the adult users, I participated in “Dr Tech” time where patrons bring in any device and have “Dr Tech” teach them how to use it, help them with a problem, or show them how they can download eBooks and audiobooks from the library’s website. These sessions showed me the importance knowledge of technology plays in the 21st century library, as this is how many are now accessing their information needs.
Lastly, I was able to participate in many day-to-day activities that kept the library functioning such as many sessions on the adult and children’s reference information desk where I came to know the types of questions people ask in the library and how to best help them. The many behind the scenes activities were also extremely helpful and eye opening as they highlighted how multi-tasked a school librarian must be to perform the tasks of many without the benefit of relegating to specialists as a large public library can do.
My time spent at the P Public Library was an invaluable experience that has given me knowledge, information, and more importantly inspiration for my future as a teacher librarian. The differences and similarities I had prejudged before commencing the placement between a school and public library were blurred – the similarities merely fitted to different scales between a school and public library, whether in the number of staff keeping it functioning, type and amount of programming, library promotion, use of space, or collaborative efforts.
Firstly, I realised a teacher librarian has to wear many hats to perform the tasks of many at a large public library. My placement allowed me to speak with and job shadow many different types of information professionals that make up the public library who were highly specialised to their job area and were experts in their fields. This made me realise as a teacher librarian we must perform all of these tasks ourselves, often without any help and highlighted that no part of a school library can be neglected if it is to function successfully for the school and students.
Secondly, my placement allowed me to see different types of programming, many of which I will take with me as ideas for my own future school library. The public library was successfully attaching itself onto what was popular and using it as a way to bring people into the library or to promote reading and information skills. While a school library’s responsibility is to enhance and support the curriculum, it is also there to promote a love of reading and present itself as a space that belongs to the students as much as it does the staff. The programming I witnessed at the P Public Library would be an excellent addition to the culture of a school. Alternatively, I am leaving my placement with a better knowledge of what a public library can offer a school and its students in terms of after school programs, resources, field trip opportunities, and more. As a teacher librarian, and thus member of the wider information profession, I endeavour to make use of all available information agencies for my future school as well as help teachers connect with these available resources.
Finally, this placement has solidified the importance communication and collaboration play in the functioning of a library and its wider community. A simple way the P library did this was through a daily morning meeting where departments could announce what they were doing that day, upcoming events, or ask for feedback and collaboration on potential ideas. I observed how this lead to unstructured conversation between the departments and laid groundwork for more structured collaborative commitments. This translated for me into the school environment the importance of having teachers know about and involved in the workings of the school library and equally the library’s involvement in the classroom. Communication of what the library can contribute to the classroom, how the library can be an extension of the classroom, and how classrooms can contribute to the library are paramount to sustaining its relevance in the school. While a daily morning meeting with school staff like that of the public library is not usually held in a school setting, the effect can be emulated through regular email feeds to teachers on the happenings of the library and collaborative ideas, unstructured conversations with pods of staff, and through monthly staff meetings.
I thoroughly enjoyed my placement at the P Public Library and feel I learnt a great deal about the workings of a public library, and also how school libraries and public libraries fit into the wider information profession with the mutual purpose of serving their users’ information needs, whatever those needs may be.