Calgary Public Library

It's more than books at the Calgary Public Library
As the sixth-busiest public library in North America, with 17 branches (in the process of building its 18th branch as part of a multi-purpose recreational centre within Calgary) conveniently located across the City of Calgary, the Calgary Public Library and its 500 member staff continues to grow to better serve its readers.
Learning facilities
With a focus on early childhood learning and getting kids into the habit of using a library, Calgary Public Library CEO Gerry Meek believes that philosophy further translates as children grow older, encouraging after school and lifelong learning. The library is an encouraging and safe environment to learn, to have fun and to meet other children.
“We like to think of public libraries today as being live places that are very approachable, deep and passionate in the services they provide in a very customer-focused manner,” said Meek.
Community programs and services
Broadening the community’s literacy as a whole, the library offers a range of programs to improve literacy and boost knowledge, looking beyond traditional library reading and focusing on things like consumer, health, environmental and civic literacy.
“We talk about the skills and attributes a citizen needs to function effectively in the community we are living in and going forward,” added Meek.
Launching a One Book campaign with several community partners, it focuses on the interests and activities of the community on one book’s theme, selecting Aritha Van Herk’s Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta.
“I think that’s a good book for Calgary,” said Meek. “We are something of a maverick in that we like to be innovative and new. Secondly, we are developing a Community Culture Past program where, in addition to lending out books, we are lending out passes to other cultural activities within the Calgary community, allowing families or groups to visit art galleries and science centres.”
The programs don’t stop there either. The inaugural recipient of the Living Library Program Award, the Calgary Public Library was recognized with the Minister’s Award for innovation in library services and programs.
“It’s a very interesting program that shows libraries in a multi-functional, multi-faceted role. We often think of libraries as just places that loan out books,” said Meek. “In the Living Library program, we allow people to borrow other people. We bring in interesting people from the community, ranging from someone who is blind, and what their life is like, to a politician, to someone who is thinking of a particular career choice. People can come in and check them out within the library, just as they would with a book.”
An extensive volunteer program of about 1,800 individuals assists the Calgary Public Library in reaching new audiences with different programs, like Reading Buddies, pairing one-on-one a young child with a teenager. Another initiative, Cyber Seniors, teaches the elderly how to effectively utilize technological resources.
A program with Calgary Police Services called “It’s a Crime Not to Read” has teamed up the library and local police services, where an officer will visit a school and read to the children. And among the most interesting programs is the Pet Access League, where children can read to dogs and other pets which is “quite funny to watch”.
Digital era
According to Meek, online research has been one of the new draws for libraries, being both a “digital connector and demonstrator”. People are rediscovering the many possibilities. Libraries are seen as a key social utility; an anchor institution that provides a central place of welcome and plays a key role in community development.
“Public libraries today are alive and relevant. We see ourselves as exciters and delighters and, in some sense, a pleasantly mad place with a lot of messy vitality,” added Meek. “It’s a great, inviting place to learn, interact, and promote discovery. We create connection and engagement and excel at something that is pretty old fashioned, that being service delivery.”
Passion for reading
Of course, speaking with a library CEO wouldn’t be complete without comments on his own favourite reading material.
“I am someone who reads almost everything. I particularly enjoy books on naval fiction, books I look to over and over again, re-reading a lot of classics,” said Meek. “I was brought up reading author C.S. Forester. I’m re-reading author Jules Verne right now and I am discovering what a wonderful view of science fiction he had 100 years ago.
“In many cases, when I re-read these books, it often fashions in a different way on how I originally saw them, because I’ve changed and because I’ve grown. It re-emphasizes the power of story and how you’re able to communicate through story.”
Undoubtedly, Meek wants to continue sharing that passion for reading and the power of words.
It’s key that, when developing dialogue with the community, customers know what is available to offer and, moving toward social media outlets, being relevant and responsive to those needs underlines the success for the community’s continued evolution and lifelong learning opportunities.
“I think public libraries are an amazing success story. They continue to adapt to changing times and circumstances. Increasingly, libraries are becoming not only places of record, but places of insight,” said Meek. “It’s interesting, exciting, and quite surprising in what’s going on in some libraries.”