Powell River Public Library has been described as “the little library that could”. They exemplify the positive impact of collaborations and partnerships to support literacy throughout the community – engaging with a wider range of community partners to develop, deliver and support literacy programs for all age groups. Through collaboration, the library is able to offer a diverse selection of literacy-related activities.
Photomontage of current event posters in the window at Powell River Public Library
There were many worthy submissions to the award process. There is a lot of great literacy work happening throughout this province, including in every library. So how did this little library come to stand out from the crowd?
Strategic focus. With Chief Librarian Charlie Kregel’s leadership, the Powell River Public Library has shifted its work from traditional collection management to focus on the literacy needs of its community. Charlie has shifted the focus of the library from the management of materials to the facilitation of activities and programs for people.
To do this, he has looked at every piece of work that is done by the staff and taken a “lean approach” to eliminate and reduce the work around maintaining the collection.
They discovered that the time it takes to inspect new returns for damages costs significantly more than the damage fees assessed. So that’s an obvious activity to eliminate.
They heavily weeded the collection and removed shelves to make room for comfy chairs and people, and stopped other processes that were not furthering the new work of libraries.
They worked out an efficient method to enable staff to create professional-looking posters to promote the myriad of events and activities. This reduced costs and increased quality and quantity.
Now they’re looking closely at the archaic processes involved in the provision of traditional interlibrary loan service. They’re also interested in leveraging the collective efforts of partner groups in the library world to find efficiencies around acquisitions, cataloguing and processing of the collection.
Charlie talks about the need to free up resources for programs and activities that facilitate knowledge and literacy – and is clear to point out that this isn’t to prepare for a future, this is what’s happening now.
I didn’t have an opportunity to chat with the PRPL staff, but I’m sure such radical change wasn’t easy on people who have mastered (and perhaps enjoyed) the technical aspects of maintaining a collection of library materials!
That said, they must feel a strong sense of pride at what they are now able to offer their community. This modest library provides a human library, guest speakers, memoir-writing workshops, writing contests, tech workshops, trivia nights, book clubs, story-telling events and much more. All of this facilitates knowledge creation for the community.
Andy Law, author of Creative Company, says, “Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable you will never be able to truly change at all, because you’ll be forever in the control of things you can’t give up.”
Rethinking the traditional library work processes enable the library to take on the more valuable work of building community and improving lives. David Lankes quotes a saying that “bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, and great libraries build communities”. By focusing on its literacy mission, the Powell River Public Library is doing just that – building a community.
Read more about Powell River’s achievement here.