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AT THE LIBRARY: Libraries serving communities as ‘great public places’

By Eric Stackhouse

The public library is leading the way in creating great public places.

In Nova Scotia, several new libraries have recently opened, in Truro and Halifax, and two more are underway in Stewiacke and Kentville.

In the Pictou-Antigonish area, our newest library opened May 2011. It’s the award-winning Antigonish Town and County Library, also known as the People’s Place library). The Antigonish library draws more than 700 people per day through the doors.

This nationally recognized “2014 Great Place in Canada (Public Space)” was based on earlier library concepts developed in River John and Westville. We have exciting plans in development for a new library in Pictou, and will soon begin design work for a refresh of the New Glasgow library space. 

The popular phrase used today for public places is “community hub.” This expresses what public libraries are striving to be. In the rush to ‘go online’ over the past 20 years, there has been a corresponding need to ‘come together’ in person to socialize, learn, discover, and share. Public libraries are adjusting to meet those needs, while continuing traditional services.

Thirty years ago, a public library was designed to hold as many books as possible, with a few study and reading areas. Today, we offer reading programs, creative spaces with new technologies, loan of recreational equipment, digital work areas, and more. Highly flexible, interactive, supportive public spaces are a must. 

Not only is there public demand for highly versatile public spaces, there is a desire to have them represent the community through creative design. This vision was best described by one member of the public during the People’s Place design consultations as “reflecting the hopes and aspirations of the community.” A significant piece in making this happen was achieved through several permanent public art installations as well as space for ongoing displays and creative workshops. 

That said, what makes a place truly great is having “lots going on.” While obvious, it is so often overlooked. This is why public libraries are changing buildings to include more spaces to be used by the community. New libraries offer well-equipped and accessible program rooms, comfortable work areas, not only for study but business, and places for social activities such as conversation clubs, knitting, and just meeting your neighbours. 

For those who work in the public library it is an exciting time. We are constantly challenged by our communities to find new ways of doing things. We are looking forward to this coming year and the work ahead. Discover the wonder, drop by and visit the library today.

Gifts for the season

Still thinking about your gift-giving list to celebrate the holiday season?

Consider giving the gift of reading, this holiday season. The library’s annual Gift-a-Book campaign is now underway. Sponsoring a library book (or movie DVD, or TV series box set), is as easy as dropping by your local library, or browsing our online wish lists of books and other items. Pick a title, make your donation, and the library will purchase the chosen book for you or a friend. And your donation is tax-deductible.

For more information on upcoming library programs, special events and services, drop by your local library branch, follow us on Twitter, find us on Facebook, or visit us online at www.parl.ns.ca. 

Eric Stackhouse is chief librarian, and branch librarian for Westville Library.

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