What do you think of when you hear the word ‘library’?
If it’s ‘books’ or ‘quiet’ or even ‘boring’, the St. Thomas Public Library is on a mission to change that.
For the past year, STPL has been shaking things up. The Creator’s Corner, which includes three 3D printers and a vinyl cutter, moved out of the basement to the main floor. Three librarians headed to Railway City Brewery in October for Booktoberfest – an event that pairs beers with book talks. The library was a location for the Arts Crawl, where artists spread out among the stacks and all over the main floor. A holds kiosk was placed in the Elgin Mall so that people on the other side of town can place holds and pick up books close to home.
“We’re up to something. We’re not happy just being the same old library.” –Aaron DeVries
These changes are not random. They are part of the library’s strategic plan for for 2018–2021, and their new mission statement: We Connect.
That means connecting people with the resources they need, connecting you with your creative side, and connecting the community with each other. What this looks like in practice is more of what we’ve already seen this year, with lots of room for improvisation.
Aaron DeVries, Manager of Customer Engagement at STPL, says that they are in perpetual beta. The library still has books and will continue to have books, but “there’s a lot more that the library space and staff can be to the community.” This year, they took a step back to look at the community itself and what information and resource needs St. Thomas has. The result was immediately thinking about their space differently.
According to Aaron, “Putting connectedness front and centre, rather than as a byproduct or an afterthought or in a room behind a closed door” is the goal. It’s why events no longer only take place in the Carnegie Room in the basement and why library staff are heading out into the community. “It may take different shapes because we’re constantly trying new things,” Aaron says. “It’s almost a hurry up and fail mentality – if it does, we’ll reiterate and reiterate.”
The response to some of these efforts has been overwhelmingly positive. The book talks at the brewery were packed, and STPL’s very first concert, “Songs in the Stacks,” sold out the day before the show. This licensed and catered event that featured Deni Gauthier and The Pairs was meant to turn heads and redefine the word ‘library’ to the people of St. Thomas.
“We’re seeing a lot of good energy in terms of people wanting culture and something to do and that connection. People are looking to be connected with everybody else in their city,” Aaron says. “We have a really healthy, growing culture in that way.” STPL is trying to respond as a player by bringing people together but also as a catalyst. “We’re trying to catch up, keep up, and then also hopefully push it.”
The changes mean a different mentality for library staff and the community itself. “I think librarians more and more are needing to see themselves as curators of the space” and “move away from that transactional feeling,” Aaron explains. “We don’t own the space, sometimes we’re not even gatekeepers of the information. Sometimes the community is the information.”
In 2019, you will see this shift even more clearly. “If anybody likes things to stay how they are all the same, they’re not going to be happy with us,” Aaron laughs. “We have some big plans to really move stuff around, make better use of our space, and really hand the space over to people who are here using it.”
That includes changes in furniture and collections and giving proper attention to spaces that encourage a different kind of literacy, like the studio and makerspace. However, if you are a book lover, you don’t have to be worried. Maintaining solid collections is still a priority of the library. “We take a lot of pride in our collections. We will continue to offer the old, but keep the new coming in,” Aaron says.
Featured photo by Marty Lewis of Establish Media.