By Saara Itkonen
I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries. As a librarian, this would hardly seem like a surprising statement but often the nitty-gritty of daily library work doesn’t leave you with a lot of time to think and reflect big-picture library thoughts. Librarians are constantly responding to public service needs which, actually, leaves very little time for us to rhapsodize about the meaning of libraries and their history.
But a few things have brought this reflective state-of-mind on: I’ve been reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean—a non-fiction book about the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire; next year is the Creston Library’s centennial celebration so the Library Board and myself are in the midst of planning how to celebrate; and last week I had my 6 month job performance review.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean (which we have at the library and, if you’re interested, should check out, but not this week because I currently have our copy on loan) tells the story of the great fire of 1986 that destroyed a large portion of the Los Angeles Public Library. The book also shares the history of the LA’s library and public libraries in general, as well as offering a current portrait of libraries in America. For bibliophiles and amateur historians, it’s a fascinating portrait of 20th century social history.
While reading Orlean’s book I began reflecting back on my experience with Vancouver Public Library. I spent almost 9 years working for the 3rd largest public library system in Canada. I have some incredible memories (for instance, ask me about the time I helped Tom Cruise and his daughter find copies of the Berenstain Bears) and I also have a lot of mixed feelings (sadly, the giant bureaucracies that run libraries in big cities can also hinder the work that librarians are trying to do). I learned a lot about libraries while working in Vancouver but I believe that public libraries are a unique reflection of the communities they serve, so now I’m figuring out how to translate the library lessons I learned in Vancouver, to the town of Creston.
Speaking of which, did you know that next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Creston Public Library?! As such, I’ve been thinking a great deal about our community library’s history. For instance, the Creston Public Library has changed physical locations over 10 times in the past 100 years. Also, as with all public libraries, there have been so many technological changes over the last century. Our own Pat Tomasic—longtime library employee in Creston—can remember when the internet first arrived in the 1990s and many of our library volunteers (who are often former library employees) have even more dramatic stories of change to share.
One of the more surprising things I learned while reading Orlean’s book was that as early as the 19th century the Head Librarian in Los Angeles was imagining the public library as much more than books. And in the 1960s, libraries were actively encouraging the public to think of the library as “increasingly moving in the direction of functioning as information centers as well as being repositories of book collections.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And I’m certain the next few decades will bring even more dramatic shifts to our public library.
Here, I would like to take a moment to assuage any concerns anyone has about books disappearing from the library. Much like how stairs have continued to exist despite the advent of elevators, there is always room for new and old technologies alike at the public library. The physical book will always be a part of public libraries, along with computers, the internet, and whatever else we can imagine and fund in the Creston Valley.
One of the questions I was asked during my 6-month job review was how my family and I are finding living and working in the Creston Valley and, in all honesty, I’m amazed at how well things are going!
You may have heard that the Columbia Basin Trust and the Friends of the Library recently awarded the library with $25,000 to invest in technology and training to support digital learning in the valley. What this means is that starting in the next few months, the library will be able to offer regular workshops and courses both in person and online to help members of the Central Kootenay Regional District set up email accounts, use Microsoft Word, and a variety of software and apps. Web design? Social media? Even graphic design and photography. We will be able to support your digital needs either in-person or online.
I’ve found it comforting to think about where public libraries have been and where we will go in the future and I look forward to celebrating the Creston Library’s centennial with you next year.