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A Window into the Future with The Nelson Public Library

Tracey Therrien, Chief Librarian with the Nelson Public Library, understands the trends in public access to information through technology integration within libraries.

“Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.” – R. David Lankes

The Nelson Public Library has come a long way since 1920. And after recently marking their 100th year centenary celebration of the library’s incorporation on January 19th 2020, they are officially cemented into the region’s local legacy, and are certainly poised to play a further role in Nelson’s past and present, but more importantly, Nelson’s future.

Historically libraries have always been early adopters of technologies, but they also have deeply ingrained systems and services constructed around them that have been in place for centuries, and in some cases, thousands of years. Libraries also serve various regional demographics and constituencies with differing information-seeking habits and needs, so they must be agile and adaptable in order to provide services and programs that match the habits of a new generation, but keeping in mind an older one who are less comfortable, and unsure of how to interact with new high-tech tools.

As such, understanding the future of libraries and how they envision to create innovative ideas to help better serve their changing communities isn’t so much about re-inventing the wheel, it’s about building and designing a completely new model altogether.

We know that libraries are essential in the process of giving citizens access to knowledge, and in the digital age, they are needed more than ever before to form a community enterprise around them.Being agile and adaptable is an understatement to be honest. And if you are a Librarian in this era, understanding trends in public access to information through technology integration is a new library science and the future panel of the community itself.

To that end, libraries have increasingly seen these technologies become a solution to media literacy, information sharing and modelling, along with reprographic services, and it ‘s not the baby boomers driving this, it’s the Millennials. And these Millennials are the one’s acting as the catalyst to change, bringing their technology-driven attitudes and their ubiquitous use of specific communication channels and tools to change Librarians attitudes towards the adoption of these new means and trends.

On a global scale, different needs are emerging from the patrons themselves and influencing the role of libraries as a whole. So much so, that the idea of lending things out other than books is becoming a major trend in public libraries today, everything from musical instruments to cooking hardware to sewing machines to fishing equipment are elements being explored.

Other elements that are shaping the future of libraries are high-tech hubs offering multi-media learning platforms and user techniques. There are library book vending machines, libraries that promote “food literacy”, academic programs that allow students to coordinate with professional journalists and Librarians as mentors, training them to use library resources for the creation of relevant journalism and non-fiction writing.

There are “electronic petting zoos” allowing patrons to try out technologies like tablets and e-readers before buying them. These petting zoos can be especially appealing to seniors, who might be interested in these gadgets but not savvy using them.  Some libraries are even offering 3D printers to print out designs, with patrons paying a small fee for the plastic and materials used.

Technology is basically changing library science and library culture as we know it. And in doing so, creating a new library experience that will elevate and enhance the active discovery of new technologies and tools, allowing information to be absorbed in a completely different way.

In this edition of The Daily Dose, Editor Jeff Sawyer caught up with Tracey Therrien, Chief Librarian for The Nelson Public Library, to discuss how technology is helping shape a paradigm shift in how Library’s function with the adoption of these new innovations, including their very own in-house Tech Hub which offers programming and coding courses, design interfaces and music production techniques.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today Tracey. With the adoption of new technologies in libraries, how do you see this being an advantage as you move into a new century and a new decade?

Primarily, being able to offer more services to more people. Technology allows Libraries to offer services beyond their physical space reaching individuals that can’t physically get to a Library building, whether that’s because they live remotely, have limited transportation options or their schedules don’t align with Library opening hours.

Technology also helps Libraries provide services to those that traditionally may not have been served well by libraries, such as individuals with print disabilities. Libraries and other agencies like the National Network for Equitable Library Services are working with publishers to ensure all publications are available to be adopted into alternative formats (audio, digital braille, electronic) which has not always been the case. The advancement in technologies makes it easier, faster and with better results for creating alternative formats, resulting in more equitable access to information for those with print disabilities.

Libraries are increasingly seeing Millennials acting as catalysts for change, how do you see their technology-driven attitudes, digital and communication tools influencing the future of libraries?

Millennials are a demographic that are re-discovering libraries and being instrumental in helping form the changes taking place in libraries.  I think they are doing a great job at asking why and why not. Why can’t I do that at the library but I can do it on Google or Amazon? Those questions are pushing Librarians, at times, out of our comfort zone, which makes for exciting times, and it’s refreshing to be challenged like that.  At the other end of the spectrum, Millennials have also helped in reinforcing some very simple but core library values. They are discovering that Libraries are one of the few public spaces that ensure access to information and knowledge for all, welcoming everyone and supports democracy and civic engagement.

With the prospective youth technology program offerings being set and planned for the Nelson Public Library, what do you hope to achieve through the integration of such services and activities?

Libraries are not only about absorbing knowledge, but supporting creativity and knowledge sharing. The Tech Hub’s aim is to provide a space for people to experiment, share their passions skills and knowledge with others.  We aim to do this by providing the technology, training on how to use it and facilitating a space to bring people together.

Knowledge is power and so is understanding the advantages of technologies, do you see the future of libraries potentially shaping innovations? 

I haven’t thought that far – as a Librarian my primary focus is on access: ensuring access to information and knowledge to all.  Your question makes it obvious – surely access to information and technology would lead to innovations. I’m sure some of the greatest 19th and 20th century innovators visited and used public libraries.

As a Librarian, do you use technology to connect with other Librarians to discuss information literacy, public access issues and other topics while bringing these new trends to your own community?

Yes, yes and yes! Librarians love to share, lend and borrow ideas, challenges and solutions.  Many of the ideas for our Tech Hub come from North Vancouver’s City Library’s Creation Stations, who in turn borrowed ideas from the Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Stations.  We borrow what we can and adapt to our unique communities.

Do you see technology conflicting with the overall philosophy of the library, for instance older patrons may be lost because of too much change, do you see any consequences of adopting innovations at the Nelson Public Library?

No, it only enforces it.  For sure there are challenges, we serve everyone, young, old and from all socio and economic backgrounds.  This means we have to be prepared to meet individuals at their level, in terms of comfort and knowledge.  The challenge is the library’s capacity to be able to do this well.  We have a supportive local government that provides approximately 80% of our funding, while another 10% is made up of grants and donations. The remaining 10% comes from provincial funding. The local gov’t regularly provides yearly inflationary increases to our funding, but the Province’s funding has remained stagnant for 10 years; we are continually doing more with less.

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a Librarian can bring you back the right one.”– Neil Gaiman 

As part of the centenary celebrations the Nelson Public Library staff wanted to break away from the shushing librarian cliché, and show you that they can also be a lot of fun as well — so they teamed up with some talented locals to create Library Rock, a lip-synch video to celebrate our birthday and make folks smile.

Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXupAKct_vw&fbclid=IwAR2giCBJPn5ThcWKKdyDiOczgQf_qc5f4MoG-aWHuzyL848lKKkjCyEbTKw

For further information on the Nelson Public Library’s services and programs please visit the library's website.