There are 3,418 public libraries in Canada (1,129 in Ontario) and in the last ten years their resources and services have significantly changed as society has changed. The challenge 21st century public libraries face is to be the kind of place that responds quickly to the information and reading needs of the community, giving people the opportunity to live fuller lives, make informed decisions and discover new worlds along the way.
It’s not your grandma’s library anymore and it’s no longer simply a repository for books. Libraries along with society have evolved, providing an increasing range of resources and services and reaching out to serve a much more diverse audience. Ironically, it has been the rise of information and communications technology that has given public libraries a new life, with new technologies, online resources and community engagement. The 21st century public library is well-positioned to build a healthy, resilient, and sustainable community.
Traditionally recognized for books and story hours, the digital era has brought public libraries profound challenges and golden opportunities to respond to new technologies while supporting equitable access to information. Public libraries are embracing new technologies and formats but also transforming into community and cultural hubs. The 21st century public library is also experimenting with providing the next generation of “expensive and scarce” resources from 3-D printers to recording studios, creating maker and presentation spaces.
The new public library benefits the entire community by:
► Facilitating lifelong learning, reading and literacy
► Supporting workforce readiness
► Engages an aging population, thereby slowing cognitive decline
► Building newcomers’ capacity to be involved members of the community
► Providing public space that supports community engagement
► Showcasing local culture and history
► Contributing to the community as a vibrant place to; work, live and raise a family
Who’s reading in 2014?
For centuries, the capacity to read was the hallmark of the clergy, the wealthy or the learned. However, with the invention of the printing press, the computer and then the Internet, reading has become the most common recreational activity in the world. As technology expands, new types of reading opportunities have changed how and what we read.
The Pew Research Centre has conducted significant research in this area and even though they concentrate on American trends and data their research is reflective of Canadian reading patterns and library usage.
In 2013 Pew researched reading habits and concluded that Americans 16-29 are heavy library technology users but also still read and borrow printed books. They value a mix of traditional and new technological library services. When asked what is “very important” for libraries to offer:
• 80% said librarians to help people find information
• 76% said research resources such as online databases
• 75% said access to computers, the Internet and books
They also quantified changing reading patterns. For example of Americans 16 years of age and older:
1. Book readers: 78% said they have read a book in the past 12 months. Although 28% of adults are reading eBooks, few have abandoned print entirely, just 4% read eBooks exclusively. For libraries this means the “death” of the book is a long way off, if at all.
2. Purposes for reading: 82% of suburbanites read for pleasure, compared with 79% of urban residents and 76% of rural residents.
3. Book recommendations: Family and friends are the primary source of book recommendations, followed by librarians and library websites.
4. Newspaper readers: 58% of Americans regularly read newspapers and 56% of urban dwellers read newspapers on a handheld device.
5. Magazine readers: 50% of Americans regularly read magazines with 34% reading magazines on a handheld device.
6. eBooks vs. print books: 14% of readers have read an eBook and a printed book in the past year. Generally, readers using both formats are more likely to prefer eBooks for all reading activities except reading with a child, or sharing a book.
From this data it is clear that the eBook will not replace the printed book, it is simply another option.
The public library of the 21st century is not your grandma’s library and it’s no longer simply a repository for books. Libraries have evolved, providing an ever increasing range of resources and services to serve a much more diverse audience. Readers have also changed; they want more choices and a variety of reading platforms depending on the situation. It has been the rise of information and communication technology, and the corresponding changes in reading patterns that have transformed Canadian public libraries.
Kitty Pope, CEO
Guelph Public Library
firstname.lastname@example.org #2 August 2014
Canada is very different than it was twenty years ago. A lot has changed. As a nation we have redefined our notions of what constitutes a bank, a clothing store and even a public library.
What has changed?
In the 1980’s “mom-and-pop” grocery stores were replaced by supermarkets, which are now being supplanted by even larger superstores like Loblaws or huge warehouses like Costco. The average size of a grocery store is now 7,000 square feet larger than it was in 1980.
The hometown movie theatre has given way to huge facilities like Cineplex with 1,630 screens across Canada serving 77 million movie goers annually. Local video stores like Blockbuster have been seriously impacted by online movies and the increasing popularity of Netflix and Redbox.
Independent local bookstores, once the staple of every small town in North America, have closed or been replaced by huge chain bookstores like Chapters/Indigo.
Why do we need a public library?
So why with all these changes, do we still need a public library in the 21st century? Why do we need large public buildings to house unused books and staff to help navigate dusty stacks? After all, people are reading less and those who are choosing to read are using the Internet, eBooks and tablets, not books. Search engines have rendered library staff obsolete because information can now be easily found simply with the click of a mouse. The internet and mobile technologies have made public libraries redundant because almost everything worth knowing is now conveniently available online. So honestly, why do we still need public libraries?
Some people may be skeptical of the need for a public library in the 21st century. Maybe they have their own computer, smartphones and high-speed internet connection at home and the skills to use them. Maybe their children have quiet places to read or study and have the funds to purchase their own books, magazines and eBooks. Or maybe they think libraries are just for “older people” who are not proficient or comfortable using technology and prefer to cling to outdated ways of doing things.
What makes libraries so necessary?
Whatever the reasons these skeptics have for questioning the value of public libraries in today’s society, they have totally overlooked the role libraries play in the community and in the lives of individuals who rely on their services. The reason public libraries have a future is simple: in the 21st century we all need information and skills to read, learn and discover. Education is not just for the young, but rather a continuous process of adaptation and lifelong learning, which is at the very heart and soul of public library service. Ironically, it has been the rise of information and communications technology that has transformed public libraries. The 21st century public library:
► provides equitable access to information, breaking down literacy barriers and bridging the digital divide.
► supports a healthy and resilient community. Public libraries have a direct impact on personal well-being with open doors and 24/7 access to online databases to support informed decision making.
► is an economic generator returning to the community $4 to $6 for every dollar spent. The public library is a good investment.
► serves the whole community including: the poor, the marginalized, the technologically illiterate, the unemployed, local businesses, new Canadians, and the whole family from preschoolers to seniors.
► is a community gathering place. Even in a virtual, mobile and online world, the public library requires a physical location within the community.
What does that mean in Ontario?
Over 5 million Ontarians, or 40 % of the population, have a public library card and borrow more than 116 million items every year. 78 million visits are made to an Ontario public libraries each year – more than 3 times the annual attendance at all North American NHL hockey games. Virtually every public library in the province also provides access to the internet with 10,825 public computer workstations available in public libraries across the province.
13,000 Ontarians get job-seeking help at the library and 120,000 times per month, business owners use resources at the public library to support their small businesses.
For all these reasons and many, many more Ontario communities and individuals thrive where there is a public library.
Kitty Pope, CEO
Guelph Public Library
email@example.com #1 August 2014
I had no idea you were so interested in humour and what makes folks laugh. Thanks for all your very funny emails and in response, listed below are some examples of great Canadian humorists……enjoy!
Terry Fallis wrote the hilarious The Best Laid Plans about a political strategist’s inept candidate who becomes unexpectedly popular with voters.
Will Ferguson author of Why I Hate Canadians and Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw are both great examples of Canadian humor and highlight our national fixation with the weather.
Farley Mowat author of the book every Canadian kid read and loved in the 1960’s and 70’s, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be.
Richard J. Needham the author of 3 Leacock medal winners, including the hilarious Letters from Wingfield Farm.
Cassie Stocks won the 2013 Leacock award for her debut novel Dance, Gladys, Dance. It’s a great read.
Mary Walsh the amazing actor, writer, producer and irreverent comedian. Her political satire and Newfoundland humour have made her a Canadian super star. I refrain from calling her an icon, as I can’t imagine what she would say to such a lofty and stogy title. LOL
Canadians are a funny lot!
Kitty Pope #33 August 2014
I just read the most interesting book The Humor Code – a global search for what makes things funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner. It’s a topic I have been interested in for years, but ironically have found it to be so boring to read about, until now. The Humor Code is fascinating, engaging, funny and an all-around great read.
So what did I learn and laugh at?
►Surprisingly, fewer than 20% of laughing is a response to something funny. In most cases laughter is a result of nerves, fear, an effort to break down barriers, appear more attractive or signal everything is ok.
►Usually the joke teller laughs first and longer than the joke recipient…..next time you tell a joke just watch!
►The vast majority of men and women both consider humor amongst the most important characteristics when choosing a life partner.
►Moms and Dads know this, but a sense of humour usually develops in infants at about 10 – 20 weeks, much earlier than language. By age 5 or 6 slap stick or physical humor becomes understandable and funny. By age 7 or 8 kids begin to understand more complex meanings and become the master of the “knock-knock” joke. By age 12 – 14 kids are beginning to appreciate irony and jokes become more complex with puns and double meanings.
► Comedy is culturally based and context-dependent; translating or explaining a joke is a no win for everyone.
►Humor is also geographic. What is funny in Japan may not be funny in Denmark and what is laughed at in Nunavut may not be as humorous in Victoria.
►And, what was accepted as humour in 1910 may not be as funny in 2014.
►Humor is a teaching tool and a wellness barometer.
If you are looking for a great read and a few laughs, check out The Humor Code.
Kitty Pope #32 August 2014