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Musings On The Community Public Library

abstract:I just passed my third month as a new employee at a community library in rural BC. Here are 5 things that I've learned.

  • The book collection is a living, breathing thing reflective of the seasonal and changing interests of the patrons. What I mean by this is that as people order, read and return books to our branch library, the entire collection of books that end up on our shelves changes. For example, when I first began work at the end of April 2017 there were very few gardening books. As the growing season kicked in, more and more people reserved books from the shared book inventory that circulates between all 29 locations, and consequently, we now have two shelves of books on gardening, permaculture, organics, aquaculture---you name it.

    I've noticed that a patron with a love of history has


    July 27, 2017
    — been reading and returning a lot of books on WWII and that a new resident with an interest in poetry and philosophy has been ordering and returning some lovely titles that were not typically circulating here.

    The Kettle Valley Railway used to come through here and one of the big employers is the busy local mine just west of town - hence there are several books on the history of the KVR and its design engineer Andrew McCulloch, and some fascinating books on BC's geology and more specifically on the placer gold and platinum mining.

  • The library is a refuge for people of all circumstances. We have...
  • ...some regular patrons who line up at the door at the opening. They come to browse the stock of new and newly-returned books and media material that arrives in two ways: returns into the book bin and fresh new stock delivered by van each week with items either ordered by patrons via the online hold service or brand spanking new inventory courtesy of head office which is divided and circulated to the branches.

    Patrons come to use the computers, to check their emails, to connect with family and friends over SKYPE or another VOIP (voice over internet provider), and they come to read the newspaper and get a photocopy of the crossword and sudoku puzzles. They come together with friends and sit at the table and visit. I've witnessed some touching moments when a patron who knows the interests of a less mobile patron will escort them inside, and then go around the library finding books and DVDs attuned to their friend's interests. In fact, you can meet a lot of people over the course of a month when they pop in to use the library. One of the town's business professionals comes in once a week at the end the work day to pick up any holds, browse the CD collection and then scoots out via the self-check out. There are two teenagers and one retired gentleman who come in at different times of the day and week to tag-team work on a puzzle on a table by the window. I think it's rather sweet that two separate generations have a love of puzzles and start and finish each other's picks.

  • Out of town visitors come in to use the library every day. We had two young men who were biking from Vancouver to Hamilton stop in to look at the maps and weather online. They told me they were raising awareness and money for Alzheimer's Disease as one of them had just lost their mother to it, and others in their family tree had suffered from the condition. They were keen to share their fundraising website and know that we'd post a note about them on our own Facebook page and tell the library branches further along the way to expect them. The library also seems to be one of the first stops for new residents. I love explaining all the things about the town and area that are available to see and do.
  • I've learned that some people actually use the full limit of books they can take out - one patron had 100 items on loan, while others take out one book and come back and return that when completed before selecting a new book. I'm amazed at the number of people who actually manage to read 4-5 regular sized books each week. They often have a favourite genre: thriller, western, romance and seldom go out of that particular interest.
  • So far I've had two regular patrons come in to say they have plans to move away, and it feels like I am losing two friends. The community of readers is a special group of people. They are alive to ideas, they are easily prompted to wax poetic on the virtues of a good book or a favourite author, they generally have a deep respect for the treatment of the books they borrow, and love that we are on "first name" basis, and that we remember their particular preferences and interests. One immobile patron reads so prolifically that she pencils her initials in the front of the books she has read so that staff can avoid including material she has read in her weekly book delivery.

In three short months, I've learned a lot about libraries above and beyond what I thought I knew from the perspective of being a lifelong reader, a writer and book reviewer and a library foundation trustee whose work touches other aspects of the book industry, authors, and publishing. Now I appreciate how a library is inter-related to its patron base.

When the forest fires broke out in our area and people were evacuated from their homes, some of the evacuees came to the library. The library donated magazines to the community shelter as quick reads that don't require too much concentration in times of fatigue and stress -- for workers and evacuees. Our head office called to instruct us to waive overdue book fines of those affected during this period, and we issued library cards to visitors, some of whom were volunteer firefighters away from their home branch elsewhere in BC.

In all it is apparent that the library is the living room of the community and our passion is to ensure everyone, regardless of circumstance, is welcomed. Access to information is what we do. What a wonderful institution.

Next time I will cover the ways that library staff work to develop material collections and programming in keeping with the community needs.



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