Mississauga Public Library

Revitalizing an aging system

The lifespan of a public facility is generally considered to be about 20 years. The Mississauga Library System, built in 1974, was well beyond that mark by the start of the new millennium. There was a need to revitalize this aging community resource and infrastructure development plans began to commence. As years passed and the economy began to dip, however, the project began to look like it may never come to completion. Thankfully, Infrastructure Stimulus Funds from two levels of government were approved, and the final four reconstructions will finish in 2011. This month CBJ explores the life—and rebirth—of this popular municipal institution.  

Population boom

Don Mills, Director of Library Services at the Central Library, has been a proud part of the system for many years and is an informative resource. “The Mississauga library system is kind of interesting because right now we are one of the largest cities in the country at 780,000 people, yet our history is quite short. The library system was only created in 1974 with the amalgamation of the small municipalities into the major city of Mississauga,” Mills explains. Evidently the city has grown significantly since then, and along with it the library. There are now 18 branches (plus the central library) serving the community. “We have been methodically going around the city for the last 20 years and building new branches,” says Mills. In fact, there is no other city in Canada that has built as many branches in as short a time frame.

The expansion of the number of branches has occupied a lot of energy. Giving us a picture of the breadth of this sort of expansion: “Building a library usually takes about five years from the concept to the completion,” Mill notes. The time frame is lengthy, and the community of Mississauga is one that grew exceptionally quickly, rendering the developments constant. “By the time a branch is built a whole new subdivision has arisen,” Mills says, “and those people are very anxious to use the services of a good public library system.”

Mississauga is a city that experienced a massive boom during the last few decades, almost doubling in growth during each of the last two decades. Says Mills, “A lot of our infrastructure has aged at the same time with the city.” Inevitably, a renovation and resuscitation program was needed to keep these valuable facilities available for public use. “We had plans to renovate them,” explains Mills, “and then the economy turned and our plans had been shelved quite regularly in the budget process. There was just no money to revive some of our aging facilities.” Mills acknowledges the frustration of getting bumped from the city’s budget every year, but understands the constraints that occur during tough economic times.

Infrastructure grants

Thankfully, a solution was found with assistance from Infrastructure Stimulus Funds, which finally provided the much needed money to finish the long overdue project. The stimulus grants—from two senior levels of government—gave the green light to the restoration project. Mills explains the fortunate circumstance, “The stipulation [to apply for the grant] was that your project had to be ‘shovel ready’ and not be part of your current budget. We fit perfectly so we really lucked out.” Since the application for the grants, the Mississauga Public Library has had four renovation projects approved for funding, plus some improvements to the central library as well. Part of the condition of the grant was that all the branches had to be renovated simultaneously on a tight time frame. The four branches currently under construction (Burnhamthorpe, Lakeview, Lorne Park, and Port Credit) represent the final four that needed updating. Says Mills “When these finish next year, all of our facilities will be state-of-the-art modern libraries.”

Changing times; changing demands

And a state-of-the-art system it is indeed; Mills notes with pride that the average use per capita in Mississauga is higher than the national average. In fact, 20 years ago it was the busiest public library in Canada. Much like the infrastructure, the Library has been catching up with the increased demand for resources. From space for electrical outlets to accommodate laptops and electronic equipment, to different kinds of seating with more chairs, group study tables, and quiet rooms, the library is constantly accommodating to the changing needs.

A public library is no longer just a place to find a book. “People want magazines, DVDs, CDs,” says Mills, who coins it perfectly when he mentions, “the insatiable demand for more electronic resources.” The changing role of the library also changes the role of those who work there. Electronic resources have to be acquired through licensing arrangements, the website has to be up-to-date, and the online catalogue has to be accessible and working 24/7. Mills, reflecting on the technology boom, notes how “it has changed the way we look at our jobs here; now we’re on facebook and twitter.” A change, yes—but one that is embraced.