Library computer services still have impact!


In late 2014, Newmarket Public Library was a pilot site for the Canadian rollout of the Impact Survey of public libraries’ technology services, developed by the University of Washington. The results of that pilot survey were reported here. The Survey has now been made available to libraries across Canada and NPL is happy to announce that we will complete the survey periodically over a one-year period. The results of the first round, conducted in January of 2016, are in, and again they demonstrate the impact of computer workstations, laptops, and Wi-Fi in the library, especially on people at low income and those seeking opportunities for employment, learning, and social interaction.

The short version of the survey report can be accessed here: lee750_leave_behind_2016_02_02 (2)


More budget survey comments


Continuing the theme from the last post, I wanted to address some of the other comments made about the Library as part of the Town’s online budget survey.

Many of the comments questioned the need for a library in the 21st century. A few samples:

“Most people use e-books, internet today.”

“Why can’t our public library be an on line site only?”

“Kindle anyone?”

“There may [be] better alternatives to invest in given the technology and better accessibility to information nowadays.”

“Make everything digital and get with the time.”

“The days of going to a library to check out a book have passed.”

My heart sank on reading these, because it means that public libraries have not done a very good job at getting the message out about how much we’ve evolved.

People are still reading books and they remain a huge part of the library business. In fact, circulation of physical materials (mostly books) was up 5% in Newmarket in 2015 over 2014. Books have maintained, and even increased, in their allure to the reading public. It is hard to beat a book for usability, presentation, and serendipitous discovery, and hard to beat the collection of a public library to discover and use it for free in an unlimited fashion.

But the world is changing. People no longer want to be limited to just what their local library can afford to buy. People are looking for the immediacy of a digital download on a portable device. People are willing to pay for Internet access, but could never afford to pay for the incredible volume of content they consume. The Internet is full of great content that you don’t have to pay for, but the best digital content–especially the literary, the artistic, the musical, the authoritative–is often still a product that needs to be purchased.

That’s where the library comes in. As we have always done with books, we pay for access to a wealth of digital content that the community can then share. You want music? We have Freegal, free downloads and streaming. You want to learn? We have online Gale Courses. You want e-books? We have those too. Not to say that the library exists only to bulk-pay for content. We are online, but we are not only online. Our physical presence is where the digital content, the technology to access it, the learning, the community contact, and the space to study and collaborate all come together.

This isn’t to say that we could not do a lot more. One of the things we have not been able to get going in Ontario is a common digital library for all residents, available through all types of libraries. Other provinces have it–the best example is Alberta–but in Ontario, the best we have been able to accomplish is coordinated bulk purchasing for libraries that can afford it. That means it is still a patchwork out there. On top of that, the e-content public libraries buy is not licensed for use in schools, who are struggling themselves to afford their own access. And the large publishers are charging public libraries several times the retail price for e-books.


And a final word about costs. Many people, including some of the commentators above, seem to assume that putting things online is simple and cheap. That could not be farther from the truth. The costs and complications of digitizing, hosting, licensing etc are huge. We can’t “make everything digital” overnight (and, of course, can’t legally digitize most books we own). The opportunity, of course, is for digital content, once created, to be shared more widely then ever possible before. That makes libraries better and even more essential than ever.


Donated books are not wasted


I read with interest the write-in comments about the library in the Town of Newmarket’s annual online budget survey, presented to the Special Committee of the Whole on January 11.

One of the comments was a complaint from someone who has donated recent, good-condition books to the library that have not been used in the collection, which they saw as a waste. This gives me a good opportunity to clear up some misconceptions.

The Library is happy to take donations, as long as they are in usable condition. As we have almost no storage space, it is preferable that they are donated in small quantities.

Most of them are not used in the collection, because they are not needed. We get a lot of almost-new bestsellers donated, and while you would think they would be added to the collection, that is often not the case. This is because typically the library has already purchased one or more copies of the book. Unless there is still a waiting list for something very hot, it isn’t needed.

On top of that, adding a book to the library’s collection comes with a cost. Most of our items are catalogued and processed by our suppliers before reaching us. We either have to ship it to them and pay them for this service, or do it in-house where it takes staff time.

So what do we do with all the great books we get that we don’t use ourselves? As much as possible, we sell them. We have an ongoing book sale in the library, and we have the Green Reads used book machine at the Magna Centre. We have a partnership with the social enterprise Better World Books (who also sell through Amazon) who take many of our books and pay us a bulk rate as well as covering the shipping. We occasionally top up the collection at the Story Pod book exchange at Riverwalk  Common (these are given away for free). We can make $8000 or more per year this way.

And yes, there are books that we can’t sell or use in these ways, and that we do end up setting aside for recycling (minus the covers of hardcover books). Is this a waste? I’d say if we weren’t able to sell them or even give them away, this is about the best we can do.


French eBooks now available!


In Ontario, public libraries are obligated by law to provide French-language services where warranted. There are roughly 10,000 people in York Region who identify as Francophone, not to mention many others for whom French is an important second language. Newmarket Public Library has always tried to provide resources in French where possible within limited resources, and I am happy to announce that we are now launching a French-language eBook service called Mabiblionumérique (“my digital library”) offered in Ontario by the Québec book retailer Archambault through a consortium arrangement with Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS).

This is an important development. Our existing eBook services offer very few French-language titles. At one point, the premier service we offer (Overdrive) added a number of titles from a couple of French-Canadian publishers (notably Québec Amérique) but this was a one-time acquisition and new titles from those publishers are not being added. This time, SOLS has deals with a large number of publishers and will be purchasing titles on an ongoing basis to build a wide-ranging collection of books for adults, teens, and kids, including popular fiction and non-fiction.

We are indebted to Ottawa Public Library, who first piloted the service, to Archambault, who doggedly pursued the Ontario market for eBooks it is not allowed to sell to libraries in Québec (only accredited independent bookstores can do that), and of course to SOLS, who make it very easy for small and medium-sized libraries in Ontario to gain access to e-resources by negotiating discounted aggregate deals for us. So now, Newmarket, let’s get reading in French! Allez-y!

The direct links to the service are:

English login page :

French login page :


Library access for all, even “illegals”


I’ve just read Lawrence Hill’s excellent new book The Illegal and enjoyed it thoroughly. It tells the story of Keita Ali, a refugee from a poor, despotic fictional island nation who is hiding in plain sight in a neighboring rich country. What makes it all the more complicated is that he is a champion marathon runner, desperately trying to save his winnings money to pay ransom to free his sister from prison back home.

Among all the fascinating and slightly over-the-top characters, one of my favorites is that of Ivernia Beech, an aging well-to-do widow who is fighting her own battle: to keep living independently in the face of a son and a bureaucracy that wants to institutionalize her. Ivernia takes Keita into her home and becomes one of his champions. But along the way, she also volunteers at the public library, working at the membership desk.

In the fictional rich country called Freedom State, citizenship papers are required to conduct almost any business with the state, even getting a library card. Ivernia, noticing the downtrodden “illegals” trying to keep their lives together in the library, starts to ignore the rule, inventing addresses in her own tony neighbourhood for the stateless, ID-less, citizenship-less people desperately seeking Internet access. This is how Keita meets her, and their friendship begins.

Of course, this led me to think, how would we treat someone like Keita in our library? Of course, I’m not thinking one of us would take him into our home (or that we’d let a volunteer deal with registration–but that’s a story for another time). Of course, we don’t ask for proof of citizenship, or permanent residency, or any other immigration status. But we do ask for proof of name and address, and that is a barrier for some. We do give guest access to computers for people with no ID, but they have to ask for a guest login from staff each and every time they need it. And that is also a barrier.

The solution was right under my nose. A while back, we introduced what we call an “e-resource” library card, allowing people access to online resources without needing proof of their address. Our thinking was, if they aren’t actually taking library resources home, why do we need that level of assurance? At that time the card was mainly meant for those who use the library online from home, and most applicable to renewals, not new cards. But the concept is the same. No ID? Use library resources, including computers, inside the library or online only. Anytime you can present ID, we can easily convert your card to full access.

Of course, we still have guest logins, for those who are visiting from out of town, or for those who only need it this one time. And as we renew our computer workstation reservation software (along with our printing and copying service), we will be able to lengthen the guest access period, from one login to a period of time, such as one week. And we still have special cards for people with proof that they live in a temporary shelter, which adds the ability to borrow up to 4 print items at a time. But for those who need a computer as a lifeline to services, friends, and employment, a library card is available to them all.


Library Day at Queen’s Park


Last week I had the privilege of participating in the Ontario Library Association‘s second Library Day at the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park, Toronto. It was part of the OLA’s advocacy efforts to build relationships with provincial government officials so that they understand the importance of Ontario’s libraries to their strategies for community building, education, and economic development.  The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries (FOPL) was also a partner.

In my group I had the pleasure of meeting with one Minister, two opposition MPs, and the policy adviser to another Minister. We had the chance to put forth the idea of province-wide licensing of online databases for both public and school libraries, and to reiterate libraries’ commitment to playing a role in Ontario’s Culture Strategy as it develops.

As for the databases, the province did fund a common suite of e-resources for public libraries only, for a 3 year period that ends in December of this year. For many libraries, that has left them with the difficult choice of having to either request more money to pay for them, or cancel some or all if they cannot. Newmarket Public Library is trying to maintain them through the municipal budget process, but there is no guarantee. Even if we are successful, we have cancelled two products in order to lessen the impact on our users. Both are products with relatively low usage and some duplication: Literary Reference Centre (which overlaps somewhat with Literature Resource Centre) and CBCA Reference and Current Events (to which most users seem to prefer other general reference tools such as CPI.Q.).

If you want to read more about our day, you can look at Anita Brooks Kirklands blog entry.

library day

Jane Hilton (OLA president), Todd Kyle (OLA VP) and Margie Singleton (FOPL chair) at Queen’s Park.




Wither the school library?


We know, thanks to some important research, that well-stocked and professionally-staffed school libraries are an important part of student success and lifelong learning. (Check out some great resources from the Ontario School Library Association).

So why do some schools do so poorly when it comes to equipping their students with the skills to find information and evaluate it critically? It seems to come down to resources: many schools don’t have professional teacher-librarians, or when they do, they are spread over several schools or share their time with other activities.

A case in point are my daughters, both of whom attend French-language Catholic schools in York Region. It seems whenever they are assigned research for an assignment, they are simply told to go on the Internet. They are given no opportunity to visit the school library and take advantage of its resources or expertise; their teachers suggest no particular websites; and they are not given access to any subscription-based online resources. It’s quite obvious why: the schools have only a library technician, not a professional teacher-librarian who would work with teachers to find appropriate resources; and the schools do not have any online subscriptions.

A recent case illustrates this well: my older daughter is in grade 8 and was researching a specific type of cell in the human body for science class. A quick Internet search turned up information that was either far too advanced for her level, or far too popular or suspect in terms of origin. Luckily, Newmarket Public Library has a subscription to Encyclopédie Universalis, although it was also a little too scientific for her (or me!) to understand. In the end, we were able to get some tidbits from an American teaching hospital site, which we translated into French. We even used Wikipedia. We had no access to level-appropriate quality online resources in the language of instruction.

Why don’t school libraries simply use their local public library’s online resources? Strictly speaking, this is only allowed if the student has their own library card and is accessing it from home (or the public library itself). This is because most subscription licensing for public libraries stipulates that it is for home use only, not use in institutions; in fact some of the vendors we buy from go so far as to block school board IPs from accessing their sites. But in order to encourage even home use of public library resources, there is a need for an education professional who is aware of the public library’s offerings and who brings that information into the classroom. My daughter heard that from no one but me.

This is not to say that all schools do a poor job at teaching research skills or providing resources, or that all French-language ones do poorly. Across Ontario, there is a wide range of commitment among schools and boards to excellence in library programs. Many teacher-librarians do their best to play their role in assuring student success, and many schools provide an excellent array of resources–both print and online–to satisfy needs for research as well as reading. But all Ontario students deserve a high standard, and they are not all getting it.

As a public librarian, I am all too happy to have these students come to the public library for resources and advice, and thrilled if they use our many online resources, such as the ones specifically meant for kids. But we can’t do it all, we don’t have everything, and we can’t collaborate as intimately with teachers creating assignments.

So what will happen with my daughter’s science project? We did the best we could, and I’ve shared my frustrations with the school. Let’s see what their response is.