Libraries as Community Plumbing

A rather remarkable thing happened on Thursday night.

At the bimonthly meeting of the PEI Home and School Federation one of the items on the agenda was discussion of what to do with about $4,000 of “parent engagement” funding that had so far been unspent. There was a suggestion that the money be used to purchase parent-focused resource materials for public school libraries; but when we did the math – $4,000 divided by about 50 schools – we realized that $80 per school wasn’t going to buy too many resources.

So I suggested that instead of trying to equip every school library with a tiny collection of resource we instead give the money to the Public Library Service to use to purchase a province-wide collection of parent resource materials. While $4,000 isn’t a huge amount of money, in clever hands it can purchase a good collection of resources, and because the Library Service has a presence across the province, and because resources can be delivered, on request, to any branch, the reach of such a collection would be much greater.

My fellow directors agreed – it turns out we have some library workers on our board who said there was no reason it couldn’t work – and so we passed a resolution to go ahead.

Now while this makes perfect sense, it’s remarkable because it’s such a rare occurrence: I’m sure there are literally dozens of tiny resource collections squirreled away in the offices of non-profit organizations across the province. Organization gets funding from ACOA to develop a resource collection; hires resource coordinator; buys resources; funding runs out; resource collection gathers dust in the corner: I’ve seen it happen over and over, and have been party to it more than once.

And yet there’s the Public Library Service: a presence across the province, convenient hours, friendly staff, an online catalogue, a reservations service – in other words everything you need to provide equitable, low-barrier access to resources for all Islanders. The perfect repository for public resources.

The Office of Energy Efficiency leveraged this notion to distribute home electric meters. There’s no reason why any organization couldn’t use the same sensibility to house their own special-purpose collections of books, DVDs, skateboards, solar lawnmowers or darning needles.

Kudos to my home and school colleagues for having the imagination to see that sometimes it makes more sense to work collectively than to build tiny little information islands.


HT Holman's picture
HT Holman on January 11, 2010 - 21:39 Permalink

Thanks for the observations Peter. We already have taken this approach in relation to family literacy materials with the purchase of a specific collection for use by parents who are working with their own children on literacy issues. Another example is our collection of French-language health publications which was purchased by a non-profit group who wanted to have the material accessible to everyone in the province. By adding it to the library collection we are able to get the information to the people who need it without having to duplicate the collection in locatinos across the province.

One point that I should make however, is that the library wants to have collections of relevant, up-to-date materials and not be a dumping ground for out-dated resource materials gathering dust. I am sure the library administration would be happy to talk to any other groups who want to be able to get information to clients across the province.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 11, 2010 - 22:14 Permalink

We specifically discussed the need for high-quality, relevant resources and the “dumping ground” issue – having librarians in the room who had experience with this issue helped greatly.