'Human lending' changing the shape of libraries
A new library in Surrey, B.C. is hoping to extend the shelf life of libraries with a 'human lending' program set to launch in the fall.
Fan-Yee Suen, CTV News.ca
Published Sunday, August 28, 2011 9:30AM EDT
In an era of digital downloading, e-readers and smart phones, a new library in Surrey, B.C. is hoping to extend its shelf life with a "human lending" program set to launch in the fall.
The program, which will be housed in the new $36 million Surrey City Centre Library, will recruit approximately 20 volunteers that patrons can "check out" for up to an hour and ask questions.
The deputy chief librarian of the Surrey Public Library told CTV News.ca that the aim is to shift how people think of libraries, from being a place where books are stored to a service centre where community members can trek to for knowledge.
"The idea of the program is that it's going to be very personal and casual so that people have a chance to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes," Melanie Houlden said.
Houlden said she hopes the live books program, which was first introduced in Denmark at the 2000 Roskilde Festival, will prove that libraries are more than just hallowed learning institutions.
"The idea of the program is to break down stereotypes," Houlden said.
"You know, what's it like to have a visual impairment? What's it like to live in a refugee camp or what's it like to be homeless?"
She said the program will be similar to the one in Coquitlam, B.C., where human lending has been in place since 2008 and has helped to give libraries new meaning in the community.
Rhian Piprell, who spearheaded the Coquitlam program, told CTV News.ca that their branches have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years in part because of the live books program.
"We hear the talk all the time that the library is dying and that everybody will be reading e-readers. And yes we do have lots of people reading e-readers but it's just a different way of connecting to literature," Piprell, the director of Coquitlam Public Library said.
She added that programs such as the live books series and book clubs give a sense of dynamism to literature and learning that "draw people into the library."
"At Coquitlam Library, we've certainly embrace the community and the outreach that we've developed," Piprell said.
The live books program, of course, isn't the only attempt some libraries are making to redefine themselves in an age of e-readers and books readily available for downloading.
In Surrey, the new 77,000-square-foot library will also house a teen lounge, 20 e-readers available for borrowing, an airy kids' area located on the ground floor and a world-languages section.
These features are becoming standard for libraries that want to stay au courant with the digital age, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia told CTV News.ca.
"The library as the community centre is really a new trend but at the same it has been with us for some time now," said Eric Meyers, who teaches at the university's School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.
"All of those spaces in a library that are grand, inviting, have tall ceilings, have comfortable furniture, have lots of access to technology and room for programs -- all of these things are what gives a library its strength," he said.
And it's not just the just the features inside that matter. Meyers said the 21st century library should also be a place that offers respite from crowds.
"The notion of library as ‘place' is very powerful in the minds of contemporary library managers. They want their spaces to be attractive. They want their spaces to be a destination. They want them to be inviting," he said.
Thom Bing, the Vancouver-based architect who designed the Surrey library complete with its angled walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and ample floor space agrees. He said libraries are a psychological space where people meet to work together, to be inspired.
"Surrey is very much an immigrant city with lots of youth. So there are lots of places where young people can meet one-on-one or in groups," Bing said. "It's designed to be an extension of the home."
The Surrey City Centre Library is expected to open in early September. The live books program is expected to launch in November.