Think libraries offer only books? Think again. Public library services are moving toward library patrons creating information.

Sharon Day, director of branch services and collections at Edmonton Public Library (EPL), explained Canadian libraries have experienced a steady decline in traditional paperback check out numbers each year, which in turn drives a shift in funding and staffing distributions.

Since fewer people are checking out books, there is less funding for purchasing new copies. In addition, installation of automated check in/out systems means virtually zero staff necessary to do what used to be the bulk of a librarian’s work. This also means less funding needed for what was once the hallmark of public libraries.

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Youth playing video games at EPL’s Makerspace. Credit: EPL.

With recent funding redistribution comes a new perspective on what public libraries can offer their communities. Libraries began discourse with their communities on what was wanted and needed most.

The result is a two-way approach aimed at communication with community and providing services that foster a maker culture. Libraries have reallocated recently freed funding to services and programming that facilitates connection and sparks creation. Day said there has been a mass maker movement in public libraries across North America over the past couple years.

“Makerspace is meant to be a creative and collaborative environment where people can share ideas. It’s a shift from people consuming information, the way libraries have traditionally, to creating and collaborating and being interactive,” Day said.

“With the EPL Makerspace, you can come in and print your own book, design a website, edit, animate and finish a movie, or play some Xbox. We have two sound recording studios, a green screen, and four 3D printers.”

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Library staff show patrons how to use the Makerspace equipment. Credit: EPL.

This year, EPL’s Capital City Records recording studios received the Canadian Library Association’s Award for Innovative Technology. Day said the sound booths are the most popular services. “They are one of the very few places in Edmonton people have access to high quality recording capabilities. They often get booked a number of weeks to months in advance.” The EPL is the second most visited place in Edmonton with more than 14 million visitors last year.

Because EPL is collaborating with the public to inform services, more people are getting involved and creating material.

Day explained EPL’s goal is to help people access the world’s information and ideas. “We aim to open doors to learning, creating, and growth.”

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Library staff show patrons how to use the Makerspace equipment. Credit: EPL.

“As the digital landscape has shifted in other sectors, it’s the same in libraries. The more the world becomes driven by digital content and digital sharing, the more our services and programs shift in this way,” she said. “Basically, we want to give people the content that they want in the format that they want.”

As an evidence-based institution, EPL also regularly conducts research to ensure funding and services are constantly on the pulse of the community. By employing a community librarian at each branch to act as a go-between, EPL runs based on a community-led service philosophy.

The best part? Every branch offers the same services, meaning all Edmontonians have the opportunity to create and collaborate.

“We have a philosophy at EPL that is one collection, one library, one staff,” Day explained.

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Young library patrons learn how to use the sound booth. Credit: EPL.

Header Image: Learn about coding and circuits with Makerspace’s littleBits. Credit: EPL.

EPL Services & Programming

Learn more:
EPL’s online Makerspace: