Imagine a virtual library, with no long rows of books, no comfy chairs, no friendly staff to help you check out and no children’s play area.
Instead the “library” would consist of a tax-funded Internet portal providing access to thousands of the latest ebooks and online magazines. Programming staff could continue to offer programs wherever people gather — at parks, family centres and so on — while library-owned internet kiosks might be placed at various locations around the community.
Not your cup of tea? Try these ones:
Imagine a library that doesn’t just provide access to books and online information, but that facilitates collaboration among community members and creation of new knowledge sources in an infinite variety of formats.
Imagine a library that is a leader in environmental sustainability, advocates for socially excluded communities, supports community economic development and is a partner is broader community development initiatives.
The current model of library service is threatened on numerous fronts.
Fraser Valley Regional Library’s Scott Hargrove eloquently articulates this, “For the first time, libraries face strong competition in traditional core service areas — including lifelong learning, community programming and access to both content and information, to name a few. … It could be argued that the competition is doing a better job, at a lower cost. Given the environment of fiscal restraint in which we currently live, is it any wonder that our funders, communities and our profession itself are looking at the relevance of library services with a sharply critical eye?”
The Royal Society of Canada has also weighed in: “[We are] concerned that many of Canada’s rural public library boards may lose their ability to provide even minimal services. The reason is simple; books and other library material are migrating to the digital world and small, poorly funded rural libraries cannot, on their own, support either the technology or the cost of digital collections.”
It is time that we rethink our role, to evaluate what is really important to us, to reflect critically on our ability to meet changing needs, to be visionary and to be unafraid to change.
As a passionate advocate of libraries and lifelong lover of books and learning, I am excited by the challenges ahead. It is important to me that my children and grandchildren have the same free and universal access to information and knowledge that I and generations before me had. To ensure this, we need to embrace the future and the changing needs of our community.
The transformation process must be guided by the people who live in the community, both those who use the library and, critically, those who do not. We need to hear from all of you.
Over the next few months, I and members of the staff and library board will be out in the community asking you these difficult questions. We’ll be on the street, at the community complex, at the farmer’s market and fall fair, and more.
You can take an online survey and learn more about the challenges facing libraries and the ways that some libraries are rising to these challenges by visiting www.libraryrethink.ca. Survey forms are also available at the library as well as at the area reading centres in Crawford Bay, Riondel and Yahk.
Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at Creston Valley Public Library. He is currently reading The Quiet Girl by Peter Høeg.