Arts & Culture

Library of tomorrow here today

By Don Fennell

Published 4:42 PDT, Fri June 16, 2017

Tomorrow’s information highway flows directly through today’s Richmond Public Library. And while newly-appointed chief librarian Susan Walters is proud of that fact, she’s committed to ensuring the local library system also continues to be on the leading edge of innovation.

Taking the lead from her predecessor Greg Buss, who for 33 years worked tirelessly to ensure Richmond’s library was continuously at the forefront, Walters is like-minded in her approach.

“Richmond Public Library is known for its innovation,” says Walters. “It was one of the first libraries to introduce the internet and had one of the first generations of e-book readers in the late 1990s. I also think about how, under Greg’s leadership, the library brought in many self-service features that would make things easier for users. Also promoted was the idea of staff interacting with users instead of waiting for them to approach the information desk.”

Since the rapid introduction of new technology, spurred by the world wide web, there has been talk that traditional books are on the way out. Just a few years ago there was a trend toward everything going digital, leading to fears that people were going to read e-books and there wouldn’t even be a need for libraries. But Walters says those fears are being put to rest.

“Print is here to stay, especially when you’re looking at early literacy,” she insists. “Even though kids today are super savvy on their devices, there is still nothing better than sitting down with a book.”

Still, the library is being creative in how it arranges its print book collection, even displaying many titles in a way that some users have likened to a bookstore. Sometimes it’s the cover that helps sell a book, Walters notes.

“Libraries have seen some decrease in the circulation of traditional material, but at the end of the day we’re seeing a balance,” Walters says. “Some people are saying they prefer to read a print book or join a book club and be with other people because digital can be very isolating.”

But as the world changes, it is incumbent on the library to keep pace, Walters explains. During consultation with the library in 2013, the public talked extensively about wanting an opportunity to learn new technology. As a result of that consultation, and support of a Canada 150 infrastructure grant, the main Brighouse library is expanding three-fold a space on the main floor that will feature a “Launchpad.”

The Launchpad is a collaborative digital space for all ages, where digital services staff and community partners will deliver hands-on skills based on learning programs that support the new provincial education curriculum and lifelong learning. The programs are intended to offer something for both the beginner and intermediate learners and cover a wide range of digital skills including coding, robotics and game design.

“We’ll have eight work stations, one of which will be a digitization station where you can transfer old VHS or DVD tapes to newer technologies,” Walters says. “And we’ll also have a couple scanning stations and three 3D printers.”

Again taking a page from Buss’ operations manual, Walters says the library is continuing to build on its extensive daily programming ensuring that families can come to the library every day and find something that interests them. That includes offering more programs in the evenings, programs for adults, and creative partnerships with groups throughout the community.

“The community is growing so quickly and it’s important for the library to reach out to that community,” Walters says. “And with an aging population, I think it will be increasingly important as we go forward. We don’t want seniors living in isolation. Libraries are a gathering spot and hub in a community, but we still need to make sure everyone knows we’re here. Something Greg always did was make Richmond Public Library really well known. One of the lessons he taught me is that we are here to serve our community and that has to be at the heart of every decision we make.”

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