Edmonton Public Library

Canada’s First Library of the Year Award Recipient

The Edmonton Public Library
(EPL) is an organization we at The
Canadian Business Journal define
as ‘revolutionary’. In only a few short
years, the library has completely
redesigned its initiatives and created
a variety of new learning-based
programs. Library patronage has
grown exponentially, allowing EPL
to increase both the number of
locations and develop new ways
to better serve the community.
As explained by Deputy CEO Pilar
Martinez, “when a community shares,
fantastic things can happen.

A Milestone Year

Earlier this year, EPL reached an amazing landmark: The organization achieved the 2014
Library of the Year award, presented by the
Library Journal magazine and Gale Cengage
Learning. The Library of the Year award is given
to the library that best demonstrates creative and
innovative programing, leadership and positive
change, and ensures outcomes that are essential
to the vitality of the community.
“The award really recognizes EPL’s leadership
among public libraries and our innovative and
creative service initiatives,” says Martinez.
Several changes in EPL’s structure and
service offering led to the organization’s
Deputy CEO Pilar Martinez international recognition. EPL abolished library
membership fees in March 2013, after nearly
two decades of registration fees to patrons. This
decision was met with a 40% annual increase in
library membership.

Alberta and some regions of Quebec are the only provinces with libraries that have traditionally
charged patron fees; this is often due to budgeting cutbacks. However, EPL proved that despite this financial obstacle, free memberships
can be achieved. Throughout 2012, it undertook a zero-budgeting exercise to gain a comprehensive grasp on all costs and realize the most effective saving methods. EPL also reorganized staffing to more efficiently meet the needs of the community.

By offering free library memberships, EPL
accepted a $700,000 annual revenue loss,
which was not subsidized by additional government funding. Yet through efficiency analysis
and restructuring, the organization managed to
improve library access to all people while still
continually improving its core services.

EPL also introduced several new programs
leading up to the Library of the Year award. In
2013, it completed construction on its new
“Makerspace,” located at the Stanley A. Milner
(Downtown) Branch. Here, patrons can freely use
digital and web-based creation technology that
they may not otherwise be able to access.

The eplGO facility, located within the
University of Alberta, brings a new way of engaging the community with library services.
This small, 1,500 square foot space offers a ‘sampling’ of the library’s core services and allows
nearby residents to fully immerse themselves in
the library atmosphere. This location along with
several others being planned, are strategically
placed in areas with an absence of a complete
library building.

To make sharing even simpler, EPL installed
lending machines at the Century Park Light Rail
Terminal station and on MacEwen University
Campus. The organization has also begun fund raising to put additional epl2go Literacy Vans on
the streets, which will bring reading and learning
opportunities to areas without a physical library
location nearby.

“We’re continually evolving,” Martinez
explains, “Yes, we’re about books – but we’re
about so much more than that too. We provide
access to technology people may not have in
their homes, we offer training opportunities, and
we connect with the community on every level.”

One of EPL’s proudest accomplishments
is the introduction and success of the Gale
Learning eLearning program. Here, patrons can
register and complete six-week, instructorled,
accredited online courses on topics such as
business, technology, and health care. Today,
EPL is the only municipal public library in Canada
that offers an online service that teaches coding
skills and job readiness through over 1,000 interactive video tutorials and instructional materials.

Improving Accessibility

The City of Edmonton is currently experiencing
a tremendous surge in population growth. Thus,
EPL must consistently improve accessibility to its
services in order to effectively reach all residents.

“Our goal is to create iconic spaces,” says
Martinez, “Our libraries must meet a variety of
different needs all at once; we’re meeting places
where people can learn and share, and we’re safe
places for people to come and read. We need to
be flexible in how we meet these demands, while
still creating beautiful buildings where people
want to spend time.”

Renderings have been completed for a revitalized Stanley A. Milner (Downtown) Branch;
should funding be secured, the renovation will
transform the user experience to be more accessible and enjoyable. The new Clareview and
Meadows branches are expected to open this
fall. The Mill Woods branch is planned to complete construction in 2015.

Online space is also a priority for EPL. In
order to create a digital public space, EPL continually looks to improve its online services offering.
The organization is currently investigating an
online tutoring software for high-school level
students, developing a digital local music collection with a crowdsourcing component, and an
eLibrary service that would allow libraries from
multiple regions to share user information seamlessly, thus providing patrons with even greater
access to all EPL resources.

Leadership at all Levels

EPL’s staff members and volunteers are the backbone of the organization. These dedicated individuals ensure that current programs are best suited to the needs of the community, and assist in the development of new forward-facing initiatives.

The library’s internal structure reflects the
communal learning philosophy that forms the
basis of the organization. Branches are not individual nodes, but part of an web.
Each location represents the services, patron
care, and learning opportunities available at all
other branches. Inter-branch communication is
vital to the organization’s success.

Every aspect of EPL’s business plan centralizes around teams. These teams are dedicated
to the perpetuation and development of various
system-wide initiatives. For example, members of
the ‘Makerspace’ team, although geographically
staffed at different library locations, collaborate
to improve the program’s services.

Staff is also encouraged to foster their individual initiative within EPL through innovation,
decision-making and excellent customer service. Such ideas are built upon through Leading From
Any Position Training, a model EPL has been
asked to share with other libraries across Canada.

As put by Martinez, “No matter what one’s
position is in an organization, they can act as a
leader. We try to provide equal opportunities for
all staff members and volunteers to influence the
library’s future.”

In 2011, EPL introduced its ‘Leader-in-Residence program. This two-day series introduces an influential member of the community
and connects them with EPL’s staff. EPL staff members have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders and hold conversation that inspire positive change. Recent Leaders-in-Residence include Michael Ridley, Wendy Newman, Ken Haycock, Stephen Abrams, Ken Roberts, Kathleen DeLong, and John Pateman. These leaders also often hold conferences with members of the public,
further sharing their expertise.

Sharing Ideas, Sharing

The belief that sharing ideas fosters stronger
communities is integral to EPL’s philosophy. This
is why, as the organization continues to grow, it
intends to share its success with people around
the world.

“The Library of the Year award really raises
our profile; what we’re doing is far more visible
both in Canada and afar,” Martinez explains.

Several organizations across the world have already contacted EPL requesting their leadership
team to share their story and inspire growth. These opportunities not only display EPL’s creative prominence, but allow EPL to assist other libraries in better developing their own local programs.

In the words of Deputy CEO Pilar Martinez,
“It’s our mission to share.”