Open Library launched in Guysborough

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Changes have been coming to the Cyril Ward Memorial Library in Guysborough for the last few months; security cameras, a self-checkout scanner for library materials and a self-access scanner to allow patrons –library card holders -- entrance to the facility when staff are not on site.

This is all part of a new pilot project called the Open Library, the first of its kind in Nova Scotia. While this model of service delivery is new to the province it is a frequently used system in Europe, allowing greater access to a public resource. This is particularly important in rural areas where library funding isn’t sufficient to keep staff on site for prolonged periods of time.

Eastern Counties Regional Library CEO and Chief Librarian Laura Emery spoke to The Journal last week about the thinking behind the project and the implementation of the Open Library concept in Guysborough. One of the first issues the project would solve would be access to the library for citizens who couldn’t visit the facility during staffed hours. “It’s not convenient for working people,” said Emery of the staffed hours, which reduced overall usage of the library. The new system will allow access to the library every day of the week from the morning to night.

If prospective patrons don’t have a card and can’t make it into the library during staff hours, they can apply for a card online and receive it in the mail. People without Internet access can also call the library to obtain a card. The card is the gateway to the Open Library hours which are posted on the building and the ECRL website under the Guysborough Branch link. Entry to the library during extended, non-staffed, hours is facilitated by scanning the bar code on a library card and entering a pin number into the scanner. Only cards issued to adult patrons can access the Open Library system.

Bringing the Open Library concept to Guysborough required funding, which was received through the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage innovation fund. The pilot project is currently slated to run for three years. Success of the project will be determined by the amount of usage of the facility during extended hours and the ability of the technology to meet the needs of the patrons.

When the Open Library concept was first floated in the ECRL system, some were worried that staff cuts would be the result. Emery assures users and employees that the Open Library project will not reduce staffing. The library needs people on the ground to serve citizens; that will never change, she said. She also pointed out that due to recent storm damage caused by Hurricane Dorian, some staff members were unable to travel to the library to open the doors. But thanks to the operation of the Open Library system, the facility was still open to the public; making available a public resource where community members could charge their devices and use the internet.

The Open Library works to extend the rebranding of libraries in the digital age. Libraries have become community hubs and with extended hours, the Open Library welcomes and encourages community groups to use the space. “What we expect, and hope is that book groups and / or knitting groups, etc.—will just start spontaneously,” said Emery. She adds that any group holding a meeting at the library during extended hours are most welcome but would have to keep in mind that the facility was still open to the public.

While the Open Library is automated, the facility will continue to be closed to the public through the nighttime hours. This closure is in part due to insurance stipulations and in part to reduce the environmental impact of the building. It makes little sense to keep the lights and computers on at 3 a.m. Emery said the extended hours reflect the times people are most likely to use the library.

Many stakeholders had to work in tandem to get the Open Library project off the ground. The Municipality of Guysborough agreed to the project and assisted in the physical remodelling of the facility to bring the project to life. Local library staff Carmen Barron and Edith Walker worked to implement and promote the program as did Dana Thomas, the Innovation Project Manager for the ECRL.

Much work has been done to bring this unique opportunity to Guysborough and the feedback since the Open Library launched at the end of August has been great. Keith Towse and Annabel Bruce had this to say about the project: “We visited the library in Guysborough earlier and were disappointed to see that we were too late for the regular opening hours. We were just walking away and Dana Thomas, who was working inside, opened the door and invited us to use the new “open library” features. She was extremely helpful, walking us through the system to access the library and check out some DVD’s -- what an innovative way to extend the opening hours and facilitate new uses for the resources of the building. Dana, and the rest of the library team, should be congratulated on a wonderful project, which should be extended across the library system.”

A new world of opportunities has been given to Guysborough. Get a library card and check it out.