Edmonton Public Library
Edmonton Public Library has long held a reputation for innovation and we were not disappointed when we visited. We started with the branches – Clairview was our first stop. This branch opened in December 2014 and is located within a Recreation complex. There is a wall of windows looking over the swimming pool complex and a great partnership has formed between the library and the other service providers in the building. The architecture is impressive too, this is no rectangular box tacked on – it is a beautiful space with light streaming in (daylight capture in Canadian speak) featuring a very special public art installation which is not done justice by photos. It is like a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and made up of alphabet symbols in LED lights that change colours during the day and night.
The community here is a mixture of old and new and there is a lot of development in the area. This was a pattern in many of the places we visited, there are many condominiums being built in Canadian cities and much seems to be fairly recent. The library is 1600 sqm and offers many programs and refugee settlement services. A number of EPL branches have mobile makerspaces, which are mobile cupboards holding equipment such as makey makers, a 3D printer and other technology which can be opened up in the meeting room for programs. EPL also has a floating collection, the only system we visited which does this. That means that an item stays at the location it is returned to rather than being sent back to an “owning” library.
We then visited Highlands Branch which opened in November 2013 after being rebuilt. It is a LEED
certified building and 90% of the materials used to build it were recycled and / or organic. The library is 1700 sqm over 2 levels and has 36,000 items. It is a standalone library in a residential area. There was a lot of community input during the design phase of the redevelopment and the demographics are a mix of the affluent and at risk. The branch has a focus on tweens (9 – 14 years) and there is a tween lounge where there are board games, arts based comic books and the evil genius club which is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) based program. Other programs held at Highlands are adult colouring and a National Film Board Club which shows films. Highlands is another architectural building, and is beautiful as well as functional.
The third branch we visited was Jasper Place, which is close to the West Edmonton Mall (this deserves a special mention, it was the largest mall in the world for some time, and we spent a happy 2 hours there the previous day, marvelling at a mall that includes a pirate ship, a wave pool – quite a large wave pool – and an ice skating rink as well as LOTS of shops.) This is another rebuild and the program room has timber from the old library to give it a sense of history and continuity. There is great ownership of the branch by the local community and it is a busy branch with circulation of around 400,000 pa and visits in the high 300,000s.
In the afternoon we met at the Main Library, the Stanley A Milner Library, wonderfully located in the CBD. We met senior staff members and the Director, Pilar Martinez, who told us that Edmonton is growing and that there is a big increase in the indigenous population with a trend to migrate from the reserves to the urban area. This is a big focus for the library and there is an Indigenous Relations Adviser who works with the community librarians in the branches.
Edmonton Public Library is a big system, with a staff of around 700 and a budget of around $57 mill. There are 20 branches and some temporary locations are being set up in growth areas in shop fronts to bring library services to these communities prior to branch libraries being built. They are working to their 2013 – 18 Strategic Plan, which has a focus on indigenous services and digital public spaces. With a new Strategic Plan process starting next year, Pilar says that they will be looking at how they do business, and concentrating on doing less things really well. There is a big emphasis on customer experience, open data, privacy and volunteers. The plan will be community led and will include an evaluation and impact strategy. They will be looking at what they can stop doing as they continually look at offering new programs and services. We were all very impressed with the Makerspace on the ground floor – we agreed the most successful and engaging one we had seen anywhere.
The big news is that the Main Library is closing in 3 months for an extensive renovation that will take 2- 3 years. Services are being moved into smaller premises as the building is gutted and rebuilt. I can’t wait to go back and see what they do!
The other notable feature of EPL is its branding and marketing, surely one of the most sophisticated and successful of any public library in the world. This is embedded right through the organisation – from the wayfinding at the branches, the ambience audits that are undertaken in branches, and the clear use of the logo with its opportunities to keep it fresh while remaining within the style guide. The marketing objectives are to understand the target and use prioritisation to keep the message clear. There are 10 people working in the marketing department and the result is a fun, smart brand. Posters have almost been eliminated and branches use LCD screens and social media to promote their programs. They have a sophisticated social media presence and have over 100,000 followers on Facebook.
We learned a lot at EPL – they continue to lead, innovate and evolve and it is easy to see why they were the ALA Library of the Year in 2014.