By Stephen Petrick
The new head of the Haliburton County Public Library (HCPL) would like to add more staff, citing that the role of public libraries is changing to reflect 21st-century realities, such as digital literacy and even community safety.
“The library is at a crucial and important crossroads,” said HCPL chief executive officer Chris Stephenson, at the Nov. 10 Haliburton County Council meeting, held virtually. “The library has been growing the last few years beyond its capacity.”
While no decision was made at the meeting – Stephenson’s presentation was a prelude to upcoming yearly budget deliberations – the comments yielded some hearty discussion on how libraries must evolve.
Stephenson, who became chief executive officer and head librarian of the public library in September, requested a budget increase of $85,000 to hire one additional full-time employee and one part-time employee. The funds would also leave room to cover paid sick leave.
“This will result in a better functioning library system, and staff will be taken care of so they can do essential front-line work,” he told council.
He also said libraries can be an “important equalizer in society,” by offering services such as technology to help with digital literacy skills, as well as large print for those with visual impairments. He added that something that has changed, recently, is the need for staff to understand broader social issues. He said now it’s common for staff to connect visitors with important social services. Also, the library now has a naloxone kit, knowing that those who visit or spend time just outside the building could be using opioids.
“Often times people do come from the library as a first resort or last resort for help that it is a little more complex,” Stephenson said, explaining how the times have changed.
Some county councillors agreed that the role of library work is changing and that adjustments must be made to be more fair to staff.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts acknowledged that the library needs more help, saying that there’s a growing need to have staff involved in social media and communications, as well as provide more convenient hours, as it’s hard to find qualified staff willing to travel to a small library branch for a short shift.
“The world is changing, the library complement of staff has not changed,” she said. “The expectation is that we get caught up and have our staff meet the needs of our community.”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, a library board member, said the library may not necessarily need to be involved in the county’s community safety plan, but acknowledged libraries have a role to play with helping vulnerable populations.
“Libraries are absolutely changing and need to change with the time,” she said. “We also don’t want to reinvent the wheel for other agencies with work that’s already being done, but the library as a community hub is a place for some of those alignments to occur.”