One of the highlights of the PLVN Great Public Library Tour 4 was the visit to the magnificent Halifax Central Library. It was designed by local architects Fowler Bauld & Mitchell in conjunction with acclaimed architects schmidt hammer lassen (who also designed Aarhus Library.) Opened last year, the library has been embraced by the community as their third place, and the pride and ownership of the space is obvious.
The architecture is amazing, the first thing that strikes you walking in is the sense of light and space, achieved by the use of walkways connecting the five different levels over the atrium, the huge windows and the skylight high up which lets in the light. The floors are staggered for noise abatement and it is easy to move from side to side and up and down through the building. It is a large building of 11,000 sqm with a collection of 215,000 items and 120 public access computers as well as iPads and laptops. The library opened in December 2014 and is open to the public 72 hours a week. In its first four months it has seen 2 million visits - twice the population of Nova Scotia!
A lovely feature of the building is the artwork and there are 2 beautiful installation pieces by artist Cliff Ireland who has created 5000 individual artworks the size of a catalogue card (5"X3" for those who don't remember) downstairs and 3000 upstairs. The works feature the history of Halifax as well as literary and book references.
Another notable thing about the Halifax Central Library is the amount of community consultation that occurred during the planning stages and this is evident now with the strong sense of community ownership and pride in the building. There were several large meetings with community members and the architects listened and adjusted the plans according to the input. There was also a series of small focus groups with particular demographic groups. Another way of building ownership was the opportunity to donate to the building fund - from the biggest donors ($1 million for the theatre) right down to individuals who were invited to donate $25 to buy a new book for the library with a book plate inscribed with their name. One of the more popular features of the building is the 14 pods which can be used for group study, small meetings or just sitting in. Young adults and students have embraced the library and it is very crowded on the weekend.
We also learned about the Halifax explosion, a maritime disaster that occurred on the morning of 6 December 1917. A French cargo ship laden with explosives collided with a Norwegian ship in the Narrows causing a huge explosion and the death of 1,800 people, injuring another 9,000 and destroying almost the entire north end of the City. This is commemorated in the artwork mentioned above.
We also discovered that Halifax has the second deepest harbour in the world after Sydney.
As well as the Main Library we visited the Keshen Goodman Library and Halifax North Library - two of the 14 branches. Both were busy, very engaged with their communities and evolving and innovating. Keshen Goodman opened in 2001 as a technology library - now the pcs have been taken out of the room that housed them and the space has been transformed into a learning center. It serves the most culturally diverse community in Halifax with Chinese and Russian the main languages spoken. There is a partnership with the mobile market food bus which offers fresh food at a good price in this "food desert" and the library offers free wifi as an add on. The staff are going out of the library into the community and expanding the library without walls concept. There are a lot of volunteers involved in the library providing services such as conversation classes, ESL classes and newcomer services.
The North Branch was opened in 1966 and we heard how this library has long been a centre for indigenous and Canadian Africans who have lived in this area, which is now starting to be gentrified. The library is the real hub of the community and Marcus, the staff member responsible for liaising with the local people, has worked there for 20 years, to provide a good role model and has also brought together the black men of the community to support the young men in what was the most violent city in Canada per capita.
Halifax Library is a library that embraces its role in the community, and the focus is on the opportunities to redefine the relationship with the community - it is their library and barriers to access are continually being challenged and staff are encouraged to find a way to "yes."