The changing nature of libraries

Leaders of much-loved Squamish facility working to ensure it evolves with the community


Last fall, a Squamish Chief reader offered up a complaint about a noisy youngster she encountered at the Squamish Public Library.

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After the boy’s “blood-curdling racket” persisted for a period of time, the library patron eventually gathered her belongings and left – frustrated that staff had not taken steps to quiet the youngster down. The patron even cited a rule posted on the wall about noise that “is preventing the peaceable enjoyment of the library” by others.

Hilary Bloom remembers reading the letter. All such complaints are taken seriously, the current Squamish Public Library director said. While she admits the patron was technically correct – that loud, persistent noise is a no-no in the library – library staff is trained to treat such incidents on a case-by-case basis.

That’s partly because of the open-concept nature of Squamish’s library and because in this day and age, libraries aren’t the hush-hush places they used to be.

“Due to our design we can’t create separate spaces like a bigger library could,” Bloom said. “But if someone is listening to their music too loud, we might go over and say something. We realize that there might be children making noises and they might be having a learning experience or a meltdown, which we will often let pass.”

Said Chelsea Jordan-Makely, public services librarian at the facility, “When I sign people up for new memberships I tell people that everyone is welcome to have conversations in the library as long as it’s not too disruptive. Talking in a normal voice is totally great because we want you to get together with your friends or neighbours. It’s all things within reason, and we want people to know that staff is approachable.

“This changing perception of the library as a meeting place, as opposed to a quiet place, is a bit of a generational gap, and it’s taking place everywhere.”

Like education, the field of library sciences is an evolving one — and that evolution is being driven to a large degree by the changing nature of people’s reading and research habits, Bloom said. As well, the materials, programs and services offered by libraries needs to be tailored to the needs of the communities they serve to a much greater extent than they did 30 or 40 years ago, she said.

For example, while part of Jordan-Makely’s job is to help patrons find the materials they’re looking for at the library – often by using online reference materials to which the library subscribes. 

“We are more than just our building holding books,” Bloom said. 

“We are out in the community as well, for example, meeting with seniors groups to help them find the materials and training they need. Our library needs to reflect and be part of the community we serve in those sorts of ways.”

Adding new programs and services is one way library staff is working to cater to the community’s needs. The new Book A Librarian service “is designed for people to be able to sit down and ask questions, get advice and find what they’re looking for,” Bloom said.

Jordan-Makely, who like Bloom has a masters in librarian and information services, is trained to help people find the information they need to sort through legal matters, access job training or finding materials, or take the necessary steps toward starting a small business.

“The library has recently joined the Chamber of Commerce. That’s part of an effort to forge a stronger link to that community so that they can better access the services that we provide,” Bloom said.

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