Archive for the ‘Library as place’ Category

Surrey's City Centre Library

The new City Centre Library in Surrey officially opened on Saturday, attracting hundreds of people to the ceremonies and the day’s entertainment.  The iconic 77,000 sq. ft. building is a key element of the city’s new city centre.  Under construction right next door is a new city hall and a performing arts centre.  Just a block away is a busy transit hub and Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus. The strategic location of the new library will enable all kinds of important partnerships that support learning and innovation in a city that is an emerging powerhouse on the Canadian and global stage.

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The growing City of Surrey, east of Vancouver, Canada is charting a bold new future by investing in new capital projects, the development of a clean energy hub, establishing new business incubators, strengthening partnerships with local post-secondary institutions and the board of trade, and eliminating outdated city regulations and processes.

The centerpiece for Surrey’s new city centre will be a new 77,000 square foot library, next to a new city hall, and just a block away from Simon Fraser University’s local campus and a large hub for public transportation.  The City Centre Library was designed by the award-winning architect, Bing Thom.  An official grand opening ceremony set for September 24th.

This development will be a great example of how the presence of libraries have a positive impact on downtowns, commercial areas and neighborhoods.  Such impact is an important factor described in “Making Cities Stronger: public library contributions to local economic development” a report published by the Urban Libraries Council in 2007.

Even prior to the opening there strong evidence of the benefits of the partnerships emerging from Surrey’s economic investment plan and its new city centre.  For example, SFU’s Continuing Studies program has agreed to offer a wide range of courses at the City Centre Library.

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The Anythink libraries are literally breaking new ground in their efforts at building community and developing partnerships.  At two locations, Commerce City and Perl Mack, community gardens are taking shape on plots just outside the libraries.  They were planned in partnership with Denver Urban Gardens.  Anythink’s goal is to focus 50% on food production and 50% on community building.  As focal points for the neighborhoods, there will be workdays that bring gardeners and passers-by together as well as discussion about sustainable gardening and what grows well and what doesn’t.  “Read, think, eat” is one heading in a recent library newsletter describing the project.  What better place but at the library?

The summer reading program at Anythink libraries has stepped away from the often-used model of providing participants with prizes and coupons from local merchants and fast food vendors.  Gone also are the tally sheets that track reading volume over the summer.  Their “My Summer” program is focused on learning and creativity based on the thinking that reading stimulates.  So it’s more about quality than quantity.  Of course the challenge for parents with kids in this or any program is to help develop realistic goals for the products of young, creative thinking and to support children in reaching those goals.  I think this model has greater potential than the more often-used ones, for enriching a child’s life experience based on the reading they do over the summer.

I look forward to watching how the Anythink libraries evolve and change over time.  They have challenged and disrupted (in a respectful way) many long-held public library conventions.  Their success may help lay the foundation for the survival of public libraries in the face of threats from diminishing relevance in the crowded “attention marketplace” of our current era.

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“Cloud Seeding”

by Erik Carlson, a participatory electronic art installation at the Green Valley Ranch branch of the Denver Public Library

Before visiting the anythink libraries in nearby Adams County, I took in the Green Valley Ranch branch of the Denver Public Library (DPL).  Cori Jackamore, the co-manager of Children’s and Family Services gave me and my colleague, Mary Somerville, an enthusiastic and informative tour of this new and innovative library.

DPL has implemented a model that offers service options that vary by branch or neighborhood.  Some branches specialize by offering programs, books and materials focused on certain age groups or interests.  So customers need to learn which locations are best for their age and interests.  This is a flexible model that can be tweaked to meet changing needs.  For example the Green Valley Ranch library caters primarily to children who visit with their parents, and to teens that attend a nearby middle school.

Opened in March 2011, the branch is designed for maximum flexibility.  Many bookshelves are actually on wheels, as are the sleek looking tables, which can be moved apart and back together in different configurations.

The innovative features that popped up for me were these:

  1. A community room that could blend easily with the rest of the library, as opposed to being off in one corner or edge of the building.  A stylish and moveable “garage door” wall allowed for easy overflow when the library was busy and also for self-contained meetings and programs when needed;
  2.  Computer furniture designed for single or collaborative use of workstations, placed in a thoughtful arrangement near the center of the library;
  3. Public art that is “participatory” in that it interprets concepts from the searches that customers type in a nearby computer (without being so direct as to reveal what they’ve typed), and images are then displayed in on multiple screens as part of the art installation.
  4. Customer service points that enable good sight lines, and staff who rove to check in with customers as needed.
  5.  Lots of cool “hands on” kinetic boards attached to end panels of shelves.  These are great for occupying young kids while mom or dad picks out a favourite book, DVD or magazine.

The branch was designed around the themes of “plains” and “planes” because the Denver airport is close.  This is big sky country after all.  So the colours reflect the native plants of the plains, the public art piece is called “Cloud Seeding” and there is a real cockpit of a 737, once used by Boeing for training purposes.  During my tour it was full of boys testing out their emerging pilot skills.  More kinesthetic activity to support learning!

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I’m in Denver, Colorado for five days where I will be seeing the Denver Public Library and will be spending all day Monday visiting the newly branded and revolutionary “anythink libraries” in nearby Adams County.  Stay tuned for more info and photos in upcoming posts.

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This is the launch of a new blog that I hope will be a forum about libraries for the public. I’ve worked in the library field for years and know that librarians share a lot of information with each other. The goal of this blog is to share some of that  info with you (adding my perspective, of course) and then see what unfolds in the coming weeks and months.

Earlier this month Laura Miller published an article on Salon.com saying why libraries still matter. She touched on some threats to public libraries including cuts to funding, Google and e-readers. Then she went on to plug value the “library as place” which is a phrase often used by librarians to describe one of numerous elements that continue to make the institution relevant.

Even before the Internet came on the scene librarians and their supporters were using the concept of “library as place” in a fluid way. Librarians have tossed around the idea of “library without walls” at least since the 1970s. But the Internet and the accompanying rise in digital content along with the expanding use of devices to access and that content has created a strong imperative for libraries to offer their services beyond their walls.

While the library buildings have retained importance for those who visit and use them, the “place” to learn and discover is now online. That tipping point occurred years ago. Yet libraries have been slow to adapt. Whether they’ve done so at their peril still remains to be seen. Part of the purpose of this blog is to get feedback over time that will take your temperature about a variety of trends, innovations and challenges that face libraries. I look forward to the conversation.

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