Edmonton Public Library delivers services for all to enjoy

With all the local projects and events happening in this city, it can be easy to forget that the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) is another great local resource.

EPL won the 2014 Library of the Year Award in recognition of its services to Edmonton.
EPL won the 2014 Library of the Year Award in recognition of its services to Edmonton. Photo by Vivian Binnema

But as EPL moves into its second century and celebrates its Library of the Year award, it has many library services for Edmonton to enjoy. Below are summaries of some of the programs and services EPL offers.

Digital Content and Services

Recognizing the central role that digital technology plays in the personal and professional lives of today’s citizens, EPL has made digital literacy a key element in its current business plan. Approximately 5.5 million of the seven million pieces in the library’s collections are digital. These digital collections include music databases, magazine and newspaper databases such as the popular magazine database Zinio, and e-learning databases, such as Gale Courses. Anyone with a library card has free access to these resources.

“We’ve done the research on what good services are,” explains Tina Thomas, EPL’s director of marketing, communications and fund development. “We’re buying services that [for] you as an individual, it would be cost prohibitive for you to buy it on your own.”

In addition to providing a vast and diverse range of digital content, EPL helps people build their digital literacy skills by running programs that show people how to get the most out of their digital devices and by providing them the means to try new technologies. EPL’s makerspace, located at the Stanley Milner branch, contains a range of digital tools, including high-performance computers with software programs such as the Adobe Creative Suite, a 3D printer, video-game stations, a green screen for taking pictures and a soon-to-be launched sound recording studio. In the same way that EPL’s digital databases allow library users free access to magazines, music and quality e-learning opportunities, the makerspace allows users to explore technologies they may not be able to afford on their own. “We’ve got a customer who is editing a movie at the library because he doesn’t have those resources at home,” says Thomas. “And he doesn’t need to, he can come and use those services here.”

System-wide and branch-specific programs

Although the library is most commonly thought of as a resource-sharing institution, EPL also hosts successful events and programs ranging from book clubs and puppet shows to a speaker’s series and speed dating.”You can come to the library, never take out any content, and really develop community, be educated, try something out,” says Thomas.

Services at the Stanley Milner branch include an Aboriginal Collection and the makerspace
Services at the Stanley Milner branch include an aboriginal collection and the makerspace. Photo by Vivian Binnema

In addition to the foundational services the library provides to all Edmonton branches, EPL offers branch-specific services through its community-led service philosophy.

“We’ve got community librarians, their job is specifically outreach, they spend time with all the community associations in their neighbourhood, figuring out what services we can do together, what the needs of the community are, and then bringing that information back so that the services provided at that library are customized to it, but then also bringing services out to the organizations that are in those neighbourhoods,” explains Thomas.

The community-led service philosophy has resulted in enhanced French services for the francophone community that uses the Bonnie Doone library, an aboriginal collection at the Stanley Milner Library, senior-specific programs for the high seniors population at the Jasper Place library, and regular visits to the Edmonton women’s prison and Edmonton Young Offenders Centre.

Additional Services

Most of the services the library provides are funded by the City of Edmonton. However, EPL has recently launched a couple of projects that fall outside the scope of municipal funding and rely on fundraising instead.

One of these projects is early childhood literacy, which Thomas describes as “everything that a child knows about reading or writing before they can read and write.” EPL has launched a couple of programs aimed at helping children develop literacy skills. In partnership with Alberta Health Services, EPL runs the Sing, Sign, Laugh and Learn program, where children develop literacy skills by singing and signing. Also with Alberta Health Services, EPL offers a Welcome Baby package to all children who go to a clinic to receive their two-month immunizations. The package includes a book, a CD and early literacy information.

EPL has also responded to the rapid expansion of Edmonton’s southeast with its epl2go literacy vans.

“We cannot build libraries as fast as communities are going up,” says Thomas. “The idea is to have a van that has library services in it that can go out to communities in need.”

The vans bring digital content and books out to communities that are too far away from a physical branch for transportation to be convenient. Over the summer, the vans went weekly to three south Edmonton communities to offer a children’s summer reading program .

Whether it’s expanding its digital resources or piloting new programs, the library is committed to providing Edmonton with the services it needs. And it will continue to provide these services free, says Thomas. Free library cards support “the philosophy of the public library and that’s its open and accessible and free for all,” says Thomas, also noting that those who wish to make a contribution to the library are more than welcome to donate to the library to support its services.

Edmontonians are free to benefit from the library by borrowing content, experimenting in the makerspace, or participating in a program — the library has so much to offer there’s bound to be something for everyone.