Libraries: A place of modernization

Photograph by Aly Beach

Tracy Munusami, Manager of Service Excellence at the Oshawa Public Library.

“Libraries have always been about giving people access to information and access to knowledge, so because of technology,” says Tracy Munusami, Manager of Service Excellence at the Oshawa Public Library, “The way that access has changed- it’s not through books anymore, a lot of its online,”

This is one of many ways libraries have modernized to keep up and stay relevant in today’s society. Other ways include adding maker spaces, offering workshops and increasing digital content. Libraries have always been a hub for the communities they serve, but in recent years they have changed from the nostalgic libraries you remember as a kid to digitized, modernized community spaces.

Like many public services, such as hospitals and schools, libraries have had to modernize and digitize through the Internet. This has revolutionized the way libraries run, from the collection catalogue to the services they offer, to the actual job of working at a library.

“The job has changed from just using maybe a couple of tools like a library catalogue in an index to find information, to knowing all the different places information could be and knowing how to use all that different technology to access it,” says Susan Pratt, program coordinator of the Librarian and Information program at Durham College.

Many libraries, including the Oshawa Public Library and Whitby Public Library, have made their catalogue available for sign out online or offer services that would allow the user to download content from the Internet with their library cards. From e-books and audio books to magazine subscriptions, to movie streaming services, many libraries have made it all digital.

With the digitization of libraries, residents don’t even need to leave the house to use services if they have Internet and a library card.

“Everyone lives really busy lives so having our books, our music and movies, and audio books and magazines available online makes it more accessible for people so they don’t have to come in,” says Munisami.

While the Internet has encouraged libraries to offer more online services, it has also changed one of the notable services libraries were known to provide: research.

Libraries used to be a primary source for researching whatever you needed. Through the advancements in the Internet and open data, one can now research wherever and whenever.

“Maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, whatever, there were certain places you looked for information. You’d look in the book catalogue to find books and you’d look in a periodic index to find journal articles and that was it. Now there’s so many more places students have to look for information,” says Pratt.

However, not all library workers agree researching purely on the Internet is the best way to find information.

Photograph by Aly Beach Jennifer Green, Manager of Collections Support at the Oshawa Public Library.

“I do think a lot of people will just go onto Google right now and just type in a regular generic search and kind of go with whatever they get. Whereas if you came into the library, library staff could actually help you drill down that information and try to find you more specific details or broaden your search even more and give you more information that maybe you weren’t aware of,” says Jennifer Green, Manager of Collections Support at the Oshawa Public Library.

Because fewer people seem to be using the library for research, they have had to change their programs and collections.

“When I started there were a lot more reference, in-house use type of sources. And now our reference collection, our reference budget is much smaller because the Internet is…serving that role that the print reference used to serve,” says Donna Bolton-Steele, Reference Department Head who has been working at the Whitby Public Library for 17 years.

Libraries have changed from a place of research to a place of recreation. Many libraries now offer many programs or other services that aren’t just books or reading. Both Oshawa Public Library and Whitby Public Library offer computer workshops, 3D printing, Wi-Fi hotspots and children’s programs, such as story time. They also both have variations of a maker space, which is a crafting area for both traditional crafts and technology.

Photograph by Aly Beach Donna Bolton-Steele, Reference Department Head at the Whitby Public Library.

“We do a lot more programming than we once did, recognizing our role is not just the stuff and material on our shelves, it’s what people do with the stuff and how they come together that makes it most valuable,” says Bolton-Steel.

According to Munusami, from the Oshawa Public Library, children’s programming is very popular and the library offers many different services and programs for children. She attributes the success of these programs to two things: the nostalgia parents feel for libraries and the fact that modern libraries offer a safe place for children to learn however they want.

“There’s a variety of different ways to learn different things and I think that’s the biggest thing for kids- is to have that ability to pick and choose how they receive information,” says Munusami.

If library programming has changed, does that mean their content has also changed?

While libraries now offer various ways of consuming content, from audio books to DVDs. Both Steele-Bolton from the Whitby Public Library and Green from the Oshawa Public Library agree that clients will always have their favourites despite the trends.

“We definitely have people here who like what they read. They’ll pick a specific author and if they like them, they will want to read everything that the author has written,” says Green.

Green acknowledges the various reading trends over the years, listing the Twilight series and Fifty Shades of Grey as examples. Right now, a genre known as “Domestic Thrillers” are popular and, according to Green, are inspired by Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Graphic novels have also seen a significant increase in demand. However, there is one fan base that hasn’t changed that much, according to Green.

“Mystery readers are very particular in the books they want to take out. They know all the different series that they have, they like their authors and they know what the authors are coming out with other books,” says Green.

To be a great community space, a library must be accessible. Public libraries must adhere to Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards which make sure services are accessible for people with disabilities.

“Accessible customer service is good customer service,” says Steele-Bolton

Both Oshawa and Whitby Public Libraries offer various accessibility services including large print books, computers with screen readers, audio books. The Whitby Public Library offers JAWS, a popular screen reader, adjustable desks and walkers or wheelchairs clients can use in the library if needed.

“When we’re designing our spaces, we have accessibility in mind. We’re always upgrading,” says Steele-Bolton.

The Oshawa Library has recently completed renovations to make the library itself more accessible.

“The library was built in 1954. Back then there weren’t any legislations or policies in place for buildings to be accessible so we’re updating that now,” says Munusami.

Libraries act as hubs for the community they are part of. They offer residents a safe, warm place to spend time for little to no money. But like everything else with libraries, the idea of being community hubs has been updated.

“I think a lot of people used the library before to meet friends, as a local meeting place for group studies…But I think now more people are coming here to just kind of relax and they will just sit around, they’ll read a book, read a magazine…” says Green from the Oshawa Public Library.

In Whitby, Steele-Bolton says, “The focus is less on the collections and more on the people we serve.”

“The library is a place where people come together, it’s really important. Especially in a busy commuter place where there isn’t that time to meet your neighbours,” says Steele-Bolton.

Munusami from the Oshawa Public Library notes that libraries acting as community spaces is important as it helps support members of the community that may be socially isolated.

“A lot of the interactions that customers have with the staff are for socialization. They’re not to ask about information. I mean they do, but a lot of the time it’s to ask about their day or to have someone to connect with because not everyone has that social network,” says Munusami.

The best way to support your local library is to use it. Whether you need to research or you’re just looking to hangout in a cool place with free Wi-Fi, your local library has something for everyone.

“Our role is not just the stuff and material on our shelves, it’s what people do with the stuff and how they come together that makes it most valuable,” says Steele-Bolton.