Library evolving to meet need of the community
Camrose Public Library director Deb Cryderman has been working hard to help the library to continue to evolve to meet the needs of the community. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
The Camrose Public Library is not the library anyone over 25 grew up with.
Instead of getting a stern shush for talking, people are encouraged to gather, to socialize and to learn together. The facility has become a place of programming that extends beyond the traditional stacks and shelves.
As the library looks into the new year, they are faced with growing challenges as they strive to meet the needs of the community.
“The libraries where you came in picked up a book and did it in hushed tones, that no longer exists,” said library director Deb Cryderman. “I have a meeting going on right outside my [office] door, where they have gathered together and they’re drinking coffee and they’re having a meeting because it is a social space where they can do it.”
On Nov. 20, City of Camrose council approved a request to increase their funding by $30,164 for the 2018 budget. The increase brings the total contribution from Camrose to $641,022.53 and represents 80 per cent of their budget for the upcoming year.
“That was extraordinarily important,” said Cryderman. “Any shortfall is a cut in services. Not to me, not to my staff, but to the public.”
Camrose County is still considering a request of funding for $123,094.48 total for 2018, made on Nov. 21.
The biggest reason for the increase comes down to staffing costs, which falls on a pay grid. In addition, they have also been hit by the rise in the minimum wage with some of their other employees, which has gone from $9.40 an hour in 2011 and is set to be $15 an hour this year.
Contrary to pop culture belief, libraries have not been replaced by the internet. They offer a long list of services, many of them plugging other gaps in the social fabric of society, particularly in Camrose.
All of the programs they offer are free to the public, they range from their after-school Snacks in the Stacks and STEAM programming, to helping people put together resumes, early literacy resources, computer and internet access and answers to technological questions. In some cases, it is a matter of warm “hello” and conversation or space to host a gathering. One of their new programs this past summer was the introduction of the Life Cycle which offered rides to seniors on a trishaw, as well as conversation with whoever was transporting them to their destination.
“There are some people that come here and we are the only human beings they get to talk to in the course of a day,” said Cryderman.
“We serve a very marginalize population, as well as a very affluent population. And there are people who need help.”
The library has watched as the numbers accessing their programs have exploded, going from 2,050 in 2011 to 30,652 already this year through October. That is an increase of 1,395 per cent, and already an increase of 18 per cent over the total numbers for 2016 when 28,602 people accessed their programs.
Cryderman said these numbers coincided with the City making library cards free for Camrose residents. It dropped the stigma that a card was needed to make use of the programs, even though it was not.
The library has even served as an unofficial shelter of sorts for the homeless in Camrose. While people do not have access to the building after hours, they can often be found using the building as a means to get out of the wind at night, or to stay warm during a winter day or cool in the summer while taking advantage of other services supplied by the library.
“We serve even when we’re closed. It makes me cry,” said Cryderman. “I have staff who keeps track of these people every day. We see people who are hungry, we see people who haven’t had access to cleaning facilities and use our washrooms as a place to shower. We see it, it walks through our door every day.”
It’s not just Camrose residents using the library as 20 per cent of their traffic comes from the county. They have also already mailed out about 1,100 to people throughout the county this year. CPL is often more accessible to county residents than other libraries in the county due to their hours of operation, because they work in the city, or make trips in for groceries or other services.
The library is facing a bigger concern on the horizon. They have outgrown their building and its capabilities. The current library was opened in 1981, and was designed for the needs of the community and to building standards of that time.
Things have changed a little since then.
There was no internet or thoughts of computers or gathering places at the library. To support things like these advancements, they have wires coming up through the floor, meaning they are permanently in place with a rat’s nets of wires under a bank of computer tables. The washrooms are not accessible as wheelchairs of today do not fit through the doors. There is also a growing list of maintenance issues, including their ramp in front of the building which has started to sink. The City has done well to keep on top of many of these issues, including the installation of security cameras, but the building is wearing out.
They are at beyond capacity in every aspect as Cryderman’s office is slowly morphing into a storage area and the library’s book collection has about 20,000 fewer titles than it should have, according to standards.
“So much has changed in the way libraries are used since this building was built that it is no longer functioning as a library,” said Cryderman. “It’s just a building that we’ve crammed a library into.”
On the bright side, a new library was brought up in the recent municipal election and has been talked about as a long-term need. However, there is no plan in place as of yet for a new facility.
With libraries being built in other Alberta communities, including in Edmonton and Calgary, it gives Cryderman hope that it will eventually happen here, while noting these buildings are laying the blueprint of what a library can look like and meet the community’s needs.
She is also understanding of the many issues at play, particularly when it comes to funding.
“There are only so many dollars and I am certainly aware of that, so I will follow the guidance of the City,” she said. “People are advocating for it, but the City makes that final decision and they will add it to their budget and their long-term planning when it’s right for them.”