The health of a community does not begin and end in a hospital waiting room.
In fact, it starts much earlier. Just as we know that allowing poverty is a social policy choice, we know that as a society we spend way too much money on downstream health care and not enough on addressing the living conditions that people experience. Among many other things this includes education and access to literacy skills from an early age.
So when Kawartha Lakes Library CEO Jamie Anderson led his team on a rebranding exercise recently, it was about more than changing a logo – it was about the library reminding area citizens how crucial it should be in civic life.
“Libraries are important to the health of a community,” Anderson tells The Advocate.
“From helping parents bond with new babies through songs, stories and rhymes, to developing literacy skills in children before they enter school, to allowing community members a space to come together,” it’s all part of the civic space we can count on as a community.
But literacy skills need to be maintained throughout a person’s life, he points out.
“Our seniors’ population is quite vulnerable to the loss of literacy skills which leads to social isolation and health issues.”
In fact, according to the Canadian Council on Learning, by 2031 it is forecasted that the number of Canadians over the age of 65 with low literacy skills will double (from about three million to more than 6.2 million).
The rebranding of the Kawartha Lakes Library system is meant to encourage people to come in and get a free library card, but also to begin using and interacting with the library’s resources.
“We know quite a few people visit the library on a regular basis to use computers, access Wi-Fi or sit and read or do research. But one of the ways we can see how much of a connection we have with our community is by the number of active library cards.”
While the library is hoping to see an increase of five to 10 per cent in the number of library members, this will only reflect some of the impact, says the CEO.
“We will want to see a corresponding increase in the amount of books signed out, the Wi-Fi being accessed, people attending programs. Just increasing cardholders only shows that people came to the library one time, but if we see an increase in our resources being used we know people are engaging with the library.”
Anderson says rebranding is about the feelings and personality that the public associates with the library. The library board felt it was time to take a fresh look at what the library offered, and how that could be expressed to the community.
“I think our new tagline – (Millions of Opportunities. One Exceptional Library.) — really sums up about what the library offers our community. We are a different library for each patron that uses it.”
While library regulars know it is as the “best kept secret in the city,” Anderson also wants the library to be the first resource people think about using when it comes to learning a new skill or finding information they can trust, or just being entertained.
Libraries are uniquely positioned to address issues of inequity, according to Lyndsay Bowen, who was recently hired as a library specialist, outreach and community engagement.
“The Library is an open space for all members of the community to come together in a welcoming environment. Every citizen has the right to use the library, and the services that it has to offer. Each branch strives to be an informational hub of resources, with educational programs and services that encourage lifelong learning,” she says.
One great example of addressing issues of inequity, says Bowen, is that members of the community can access the Internet at all 14 branches across Kawartha Lakes.
“Some members of the community may not have access to (their own) Internet for a variety of reasons, such as geographical or financial constraints. The library is able to break down these barriers, and allow access for all citizens in a safe space,” she says.
Bowen notes the Library strives to attract diverse audiences and that they are always looking for ways to reach out to the community to showcase what they offer.
“We want to enrich the lives of all citizens of the City of Kawartha Lakes. When given the chance, we partner with a variety of other groups in the community to provide even further additional resources and services. This provides linkages between other groups in the community that may already attract diverse audiences from the City,” says Bowen.
Overall, Bowen says she believes the library’s mission statement reflects the library’s encouragement to members of the community to interact with each other, and to feel inspired to continue learning no matter one’s age:
The Mission of the City of Kawartha Lakes Public Library is to provide all residents with impartial access to a wide range of information resources, programs, equipment, and services in order to encourage literacy and lifelong learning and to support educational, cultural, and recreational activities.
One such example is the coding classes provided all summer by Pinnguaq. This is a Lindsay and Nunavut based not-for-profit technology company that was looking for ways to give back to the community with their work. Coding classes have been offered to kids at a variety of ages and coding expertise downstairs in the library’s meeting room in Lindsay.
Anderson says libraries are fighting the perception that they are just “book warehouses where people have to be silent.”
“At the same time there is common misconception that you can Google anything and all the books are free available online. But libraries are not afraid to say ‘no, not everything is online and often what is available may not be trustworthy and is trying to sell you something.’”
To get a library card, simply stop in at any branch with a piece of identification that has a current mailing address.