Edmonton Public Library

Spread the words

The Edmonton Public Library has grown from humble beginnings to 17 branches that span across the Alberta capital.

This month, The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Linda Cook, CEO of the Edmonton Public Library, who spoke vividly about Edmonton Public Library’s selection of exciting, upcoming projects.

Managing major building projects

“In 2008, we received a jaw-dropping $98.3 million to build new and renovate existing libraries,” Cook explained. “By the beginning of 2014, Edmonton will have two new branches, for a new total of 19 branches. As well, three of these branches will be totally rebuilt and expanded.”

Some project funding has come from the Government of Alberta’s Municipal Sustainability Infrastructure grants, however Cook was quick to recognize Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel in his decision to make a heavy investment in the essential services provided by the Edmonton Public Library.

“Edmonton is growing rapidly and Edmonton Public Library is keeping pace,” reads the library website. “We have several approved library building projects at various stages of planning, design and construction. From brand new libraries in new locations to renovations and expansions in existing communities, we’re growing to serve our customers and communities even better than ever.”

The Edmonton Public Library currently manages five separate, major building projects, including the main branch, Stanley A. Milner, which has undergone interior renovations in recent decades, with a planned interior addition will now compliment the facility as well.

The Mill Woods Branch, among the most extensive of the construction efforts, had previously operated from a strip mall. A new facility is under construction in the very same parking lot as the Mill Woods Branch and will be nearly doubt the size of the former home. It offers a just-as-convenient location, with much more capacity. With a construction completion date of Spring 2014, this rebuilt library branch will also be jointly used, as its upper level will be home to a seniors centre.

Additionally, a new branch in the Clareview Area will also be built by 2013, also with doubling up in mind, as the new facility will also be used as a joint use, recreational centre. The same goes for the new branch in The Meadows. Cook said, “We’re always looking for ways we can use joint use facilities as it just makes so much sense.”

At the Highlands Branch, the Edmonton Public Library offers an inner-city library. The existing facility will be torn down and replaced with a beautiful, iconic building, further adding to the surrounding restoration of the area. The Jasper Place Branch will also be fully torn down and rebuilt, replaced with a brand new 15,000 square foot library.

“The design of the new Jasper Place Branch reflects Edmonton Public Library’s aspirations to create an open and memorable presence in the community, offering an environmentally friendly, LEED certified, two-level, sustainable structure,” reads the library website.

“Our whole plan is to ensure that the libraries we built do not look like the traditional library,” Cook summarized. “Libraries are changing so much and it is quite unique.”

Finding a new revenue source

With these construction plans comes the cost. Aside from various parts of Quebec, Alberta is the only location in all of Canada to charge its adult users an annual library fee.

“The fee is $12, but if you can’t afford to pay, the fee is waived, no questions asked. However, our Board does believe that this is one of the barriers of access. We know we have people who won’t come to the library because they can’t afford it and they don’t want to say they can’t afford it, so one of our objectives is that, by 2013, our centennial year, we want to eliminate the membership fee,” Cook explained.

But as this system currently brings in more than $800,000 in revenue, another revenue source must be found, and as Cook added, without going to either level of government for the funding.

“When people are registering if they wish to make a donation to the library, they can, so that’s how we’re going to do it. That’s our plan—whether or not in a year we can make up that $800,000 in revenue just simply by people giving to the library.”

A library of firsts

To say that the Edmonton Public Library has been setting the standard may be selling it short. As an example, the Edmonton Public Library was the first library in all of Canada to introduce a fully integrated, computerized circulation system, implemented in 1979. The Edmonton Public Library was also the first public library in Canada to implement RFID technology system-wide that allows customers to check in and check out their own materials.

The Edmonton Public Library was also the first to open a public facility inside in a university. Added Cook, “We find we attract young kids and families but when they are age 18 to 26, we tend to lose them, so we decided that let’s put a public library branch right on campus, and it has been extremely successful, so we’re looking at other kiosks like that.”

Like most libraries, the Edmonton Public Library offers a variety of enjoyable programs for children, teens, adults, and seniors, but perhaps where the library differs is in highlighting its historic surrounding area.

“We do have a strong focus on Aboriginal story time, Aboriginal programs for teens and adults, classes in learning Cree, with a lot of Aboriginal families not wanting their children to lose their language,” Cook said. “Edmonton has a very large Aboriginal population so that is one of our focuses.”

The Edmonton Public Library also offers a variety of computer learning programs, from how to email, to an introduction to the Internet, to word processing, to getting the most out of Google, to using social media like Twitter and Facebook.

“These programs are always oversubscribed,” Cook beamed. “It is amazing to me that, in this day and age, we still have so many people that don’t have that kind of access or knowledge that they need in order to use all of the communication devices that are out there right now. So many people say that with the Internet and Google, why do you need a library anymore? But libraries aren’t going by the wayside. Libraries are adaptable and have become another tool to provide services.”

Community connection

Additional surveys—why the public does or does not use the library—has allowed the Edmonton Public Library to further refine its role in its branch communities.

“Libraries have always been used for research and to support studies and the development of new ideas, but I think more and more libraries are becoming the place where the creation of new information and media happens,” Cook said.

“These are some of the things we’re looking at in the next three years. It is interesting—usually our strategic planning is five years, but because technology is changing everything, and at such a rapid pace, we can only plan for three years because there are going to be so many more changes and we need to be ready.”

Cook strongly believes that the key to the future for public libraries lies in the community connection.

“We are having fun, it is great system and I feel so fortunate to be the CEO of it. Edmonton Public Library is on a roll.”