Sunday, November 20, 2016

TB News Watch: Thunder Bay Public Library looks to future

November 15, 2016 |  Gary Rinne

People are taking out fewer and fewer books at the Thunder Bay Public Library,  but staffing levels remain the same as they were a decade ago.

Chief librarian John Pateman says that’s because the library continues to provide people-based services, and is also changing the services it offers in order to reflect changing needs.

Some of those changes are reflected in the steadily-increasing use of library materials through electronic circulation: the borrowing of ebooks, e-audiobooks, movies, magazines and more, through various online applications. 

Electronic circulation ballooned by more than 500 per cent between 2011 and last year.

By contrast, data supplied by the library to shows traditional book circulation dropped by 27 per cent between 2005 and 2015, and the number of in-person visits declined by 21 per cent.

In the year 2000, the public library employed 56 people full-time, while part-time and casual staff accounted for 22 full-time-equivalent positions.  This year, the comparable figures are 56 and 19.

“We’ve kept the staffing base as-is but we’ve changed the nature of the work that they do, to make them more outward-facing and to give them the capacity to go out into the community and do good things there,” Pateman said.

But Pateman added the ultimate goal remains to get people to come back into the library, where there is “a fantastic range of resources, that are all free” rather than having to potentially pay for them somewhere else.  He pointed out that Thunder Bay residents support the library through their taxes, “so you might as well come and get the benefit of what you kind of pay for up-front.”  

He feels a third and most important reason to utilize the library is that it represents democratic public space. “It’s a great opportunity for getting people together, for generating community activity, for getting people in contact with each other who may not have the opportunity to do so outside the library, whether that’s a generations thing or whether it’s communities that don’t normally collide.”

The chief librarian wants to maintain a healthy balance between in-building services and remote services, even while acknowledging that “there is an insatiable appetite” for any kind of on-line resource that the library provides. 

“People just can’t get enough of it, so that’s just going to go up and up and up,” he said,  although he conceded the use of e-books has flattened off.  “If anything, it’s about the same level as traditional book-borrowing, so those two, I think, are going to find their own equilibrium.”

Pateman said that currently the biggest market for hard-copy books, particularly fiction, is the teenage market, notably teenaged girls.  He noted that this is despite the fact that younger clients have been brought up with new technology.

 “To me, that speaks very clearly that the book has got a future … no matter what all the other technological changes may be.”

To help cement its value to the public in the coming years, Pateman said the library will re-position itself as a community hub.  He said the library has a powerful brand, but for people who haven’t used it for awhile, there may be a limited vision of what it is. 

“You’ll find a very good library service, but also you’ll find a range of other community services that will assist in giving you a very good quality of life.”

He described the effort as a one-stop-shop concept that goes beyond the boundaries of the traditional library.  As an example,  at the Waverley library branch, small-business operators can rent a work area designed for and dedicated just to them,  where they can tap into resources already in the building. 

“We’ve got all the kind of key census data that will tell you what your market might look like, things like that.”

To view the original article, please visit TB News Watch.

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