North Coast libraries swap ideas in Houston

Thirty librarians from North Coast libraries met in Houston recently to share program ideas and renovate libraries for the post-Internet age.

Toni McKilligan

You can go there online or in person, take out a free DVD or an e-reader. It’s a place where authors give talks—some live, some by Skype.

And, since it’s a library, you can also take out a book.

When thirty librarians met at the Houston library last week, these were a a few of the newer offerings they talked about.

Libraries across the country are quickly adapting to a post-Internet world.

“We’re really trying to promote libraries as a community place,” said Toni McKilligan, Houston’s chief librarian. “It’s not just about books anymore—we do all kinds of things.”

The fall meeting of the North Coast Library Federation gave librarians a chance to share ideas for new programs and services. The NCLF includes all public libraries from Houston to Prince Rupert, as well as the Stewart library and the libraries of Northwest Community College. Anyone with a Houston library card can borrow materials from across the NCLF.

One of the speakers at Houston conference introduced a program that was a big hit in Terrace.

Walk around Terrace these days and you might bump into parents or kids wearing an “I slept over at the Terrace Library” T-shirt.

Jessica Dafoe, who runs the sleepover program, said families arrive after the library closes and have dinner together. They make seasonal crafts and play a variety of games.

Some of the games are pitched to book lovers—like a family Jeopardy game based on popular books. But other games get sporty. Last winter, Terrace held a “winter relay” where kids packed on as many winter clothes as they could and raced through the library stacks.

“Around 10:30, families pair up together and find a place to sleep in the library,” said Dafoe. “Everyone cozies down with their books and their lights.”

“It’s a really fun community thing to do,” she said.

The Houston library is looking forward to sleepovers, said Toni McKilligan. They are also planning a first-ever live music coffee house in November and the library’s first virtual author tour. A Vancouver Island author will speak via Skype to readers in all the North Coast libraries this November.

“That’s one of the most awesome things about library land,” McKilligan said. “People are more than happy to share their ideas.”

Asked where she thinks libraries are headed, McKilligan said she expects that sometime soon, they will go digital.

“Print’s not going to go away right away, but you’re going to see the print collections shrinking and the digital collections growing,” she said, adding that libraries have a lot more buying power with online materials.

“There are already libraries with not a single book in them,” she said. One Canadian university library holds its entire collection online.

And at the Houston library, members can already sign on to B.C.’s Library To Go service—an online collection of  online audio and e-books.

More Houston members have signed on to Library to Go since March, said McKilligan. That’s when the Houston library brought four Kobo e-readers into its collection.

Even for old-school readers who like a physical book, the library has new things to offer, like its growing collection of book club sets.

The library has 28 sets this year, and will have 48 sets by 2012.

“It’s really a cool idea because typically book clubs have to read older books,” McKilligan said. “But this way we can get current books.”

“It’s a fledging program, but it’s taking off,” she said.