Libraries enjoying surge in popularity

As our on-screen life expands, people increasingly value the human contact and the “memory” capacity of libraries.

Ottawa Citizen, December 27, 2016

Berthiaume and McAvity: In a digital age, more people than ever are visiting libraries, archives and museums. We can learn from that

Dr. Guy Berthiaume is the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Photographed at Library and Archives Canada Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2015.  (Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen)
Dr. Guy Berthiaume is the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Exciting times lie ahead for ‘memory institutions,’ he says. Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen

These are exciting times for the library community in Canada’s capital and many other cities across the country.

And yet, the digital era often gives us the impression that memory itself is becoming obsolete. What is the use of memory institutions such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs)? Aren’t Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter and the mind-blowing speed of their algorithms good enough for “remembering”?

From time to time, seemingly logical questions come up in the media. Is it still appropriate to build new libraries, given the increased popularity of ebooks? Aren’t virtual museums the best response to the need to make culture accessible to people across the country and around the world? Aren’t the archives’ holdings all digitized and accessible on either their own platforms or those of Ancestry or Findmypast?

Yet, in fact, the patronage of GLAMs is increasing. The number of visits to public libraries in the United States increased by four per cent in the past year. The new Halifax Public Library received double the expected number of visitors in its first year (1.9 million compared with the 900,000 expected), and it is anticipated that the new Ottawa Central Library will welcome at least 1.6 million visitors each year. As for Canadian museums, they attract 62 million visitors per year, up 10 per cent from 2013.

This counter-intuitive data led the British Library to conclude:

“The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the perceived value of real human encounters and physical artefacts: activity in each realm feeds interest in the other.”

With this paradox in mind, the Canadian Museums Association, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Library and Archives Canada hosted the Summit on the Value of Libraries, Archives and Museums earlier this month.

The summit brought together nearly 300 people and some 30 speakers, one-quarter of whom were international. Key points about memory institutions in the early 21st century were highlighted:

• Technology is a source of both challenges and opportunities. In terms of challenges, there is the need for financial resources necessary to acquire these technologies and to secure the human resources capable of getting the most out of them. In terms of opportunities, there is the democratization of culture that is the result of reaching citizens in their homes thanks to digital technology. There is also the increased use of GLAM spaces, following these virtual visits. Increased consultation of resources on the Web is increasing the appetite of the public to visit reading rooms and exhibition spaces.

• Memory institutions are playing new roles – welcoming newcomers, providing access to high-speed internet for the less fortunate, et cetera.

• Finally, the position of memory institutions in the creative ecosystem cannot be reduced to the functions of collecting and preserving works. They are also present at the beginning of the creative chain, providing inspiration and material to artists of all disciplines – not just authors and poets, but also digital artists, musicians, painters, directors.

Beyond sharing knowledge, the Ottawa Summit also revealed a unity among memory institutions, which had previously tended to focus on what makes them unique rather than looking for common denominators. In practice, the distinctions have been fading for years: for example, all major museums host archives, and even libraries.

The participants of the summit adopted the Ottawa Declaration as an expression of their commitment to increase collaboration, develop opportunities to engage citizens and expand access to their collections. A new day has risen for Canadian memory institutions!

Dr. Guy Berthiaume is Librarian and Archivist of Canada and John G. McAvity is Executive Director, Canadian Museums Association.


Three rural libraries to close in United Counties

August 27, 2016 —Today is a sad day in Dalkeith as a farewell party is scheduled for the library, which the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Library Board has decided to close. In fact, three rural libraries in the United Counties are slated for closure: Dalkeith, Morewood, and St. Andrews West.

This excerpt is from a report prepared by writer Tom van Dusen for the current edition of Ontario Farmer.

Hope is waning for three Eastern Ontario communities hoping to preserve their libraries as key centres for educational, social and children’s activities.

The libraries are at Dalkeith, Morewood and St Andrews West. All are small rural hamlets with little left at their cores but the libraries….Closure dates for the three branches has been given as September 3.

Dalkeith library: usage was up, and there is no “bailiff at the door,” say residents

The Board has blamed its decision on costs, insurance considerations and safety standards. It previously closed two other branches, at North Lancaster and Moose Creek. Once threatened, branches at Williamsburg and South Mountain remain open after residents manned the barricades.

Branch defenders caim book borrowers are increasing and operating costs are minimal. For example, a part-time librarian in Dalkeith costs $17,000 a year.

Supporters such as Leo Lehtiniemi feel the rug has been pulled out from under them, A member of Friends of the Dalkeith Library, Lehtiniemi said that, over the past year, borrowers have increased by 36 percent and visitors by 11 percent.

“That’s what we were asked to do,” he says of the spike in library use. “There are no safety issues and there is no bailiff at the door. Closing the library is like ripping the heart out of Dalkeith.”

St Andrews West branch: also on the chopping block

Modern library: bright, friendly and no “shushing”!

Globe and Mail, June 12, 2015

Clearly, there’s no need to shush. As I walk through the front doors of the main public library in Kitchener, Ont., I see movement and life all around: the traffic on the sidewalk through a wall of glass; the art installation dancing above my head, a jumble of printed leaves in cotton-candy pink; and people hanging out in the front room, like the couple snuggled into armchairs and reading to their young son. This feels like a place of activity and community. With books.

Which is exactly the idea. When the city’s library system commissioned LGA Architectural Partners to do a $46-million renovation of the building, the intention was to renew the building physically and also to reflect a new vision for the institution. “The library has taken on a renewed role as a community centre,” says Sonia Lewis, the outgoing CEO of the Kitchener Public Library. “We see that at the Central Library: people coming in who haven’t been to a library in a long time and they’re making a space their own.”

An installation in the lobby, by artists Moss & Lam, helps signal an open and friendly atmosphere. . Photo by: Ben Rahn / A-Frame

Public library systems across the country – from Halifax, which opened its new Central Library last fall, to planned new facilities in Calgary and Ottawa – are engaged in similar efforts today. Many of their existing buildings date back to the public-building boom of the 1960s and 1970s; they need work. At the same time, demand for library facilities is growing, and institutions are adopting a more active service model that includes access to technology, all kinds of cultural programming and librarians serving as active guides to research .

The renovated Kitchener building, by LGA with heritage architect Phillip Carter, is a product of this moment. LGA’s team, led by the Kitchener native David Warne, took the well-loved 1962 library by Carl Reider and made it both larger and dramatically more open. “To us, the project was like putting a ship in a bottle,” LGA’s Janna Levitt tells me as we stand in the atrium. “It became a study, architecturally, in how to incorporate new elements as a wrapper of the original.” On the street side, the architects added a new layer of glass that turns the existing façade – of sculpted, curving concrete and fieldstone – into an artifact on display.

That dialogue between past and present continues inside. The main reading room, which faces the street, is a wide two-storey-high space overseen by “Enlightenment,”a 36-foot mural by local painter Jack Bechdel. The architects preserved the work and matched it with a new ceiling, with lights scattered like stars in the night sky, and dips and folds that dampen the sound. The acoustic dampening is important: a café is being built in one corner; an array of loungers, worktables and Eames side chairs are scattered around for patrons to use, and the room is used for public programming.

The front facade library is deliberately open to the street; the stone and concrete of the original facade are like ‘a ship in a bottle,’ architect Janna Levitt says.

Librarians sit at two desks here, on the edge of the space but ready to help. Lewis explains that they play an active role helping people with research of all kinds, including how to navigate Canadian society: many new Canadians in the region come here for help finding their way to public resources. “For them, this institution is a safe haven,” Lewis says.

The reading room also gets loud with cultural programming. “People didn’t necessarily come here to listen to the guitar player,” Lewis says. “but I think that element is another reason people are coming to the building: to see what’s new.”

LGA’s thoughtful design, which just won a Library Building Award from the Ontario Library Association, perfectly reflects this mixture of mid-century idealism and contemporary coziness. Their aesthetic favours accretion and variety, and the library mixes materials and textures freely: floors in dappled Algonquin limestone; exposed concrete ceilings with the texture of a waffle; ceiling panels in a light birch; and new shelves and cabinetry made of a warm-hued walnut.

The reading room of the library was once a quiet place; now patrons can talk, move the furniture, and gather here for live performances.

The cabinetry holds books, and further along into the building it also holds kids. A series of little cubbies, each with an acid-green cushion, provide space for children to nest with a book. A back corner of the building is a new children’s room, for storytelling and educational programs – behind a glass wall which is decorated with a translucent mural of flowers and trees by the artist Melissa Levin.

The respect given to small children is no accident. Lewis says the KPL is seeing more users of all ages – including parents who grew up there, returning with their kids. “The library is now the one place everybody goes,” Levitt says. Children and the elderly are both growing populations among library users. “As books become less of a source of information, other information is delivered as program. You need more space to deliver it.”

Read the full article here.