On September 13 – 14, 2013, we began our nation-wide consultations in Yellowknife, NWT. We had the opportunity to meet with students and staff at Aurora College, librarians and archivists at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, and librarians and members of the general public at the Yellowknife Public Library. We were welcomed warmly, and our discussions were energetic and qualitative.
With an engaged group of students and staff at Aurora College, we heard forceful descriptions of the library as “a treasury,” “a pathfinder,” “a worldwide institution,” “an access point,” “a place for community,” “an expansive, evolving institution,” “a place to learn about learning,”and “a safe place for children.” Many of the students who volunteered their time to attend the consultation are engaged in partnership degree programs with southern universities (Regina, Saskatchewan, Victoria), in programs like education, social work, and nursing. The students were appreciative of the services and distance deliveries they were provided, but nonetheless aware of the challenges they face. One of the most compelling arguments for libraries was their indispensable role in addressing literacy within northern communities.
At the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre we learned about a wide range of archival services. Recently, the archives and their dedicated staff were instrumental in helping over 2,000 aboriginal citizens in preparing their deputations with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As both the economy and the evolution of the territories develop, one of the challenges that library and archival services face is the influx of newcomers expecting the same intense range of services they have known in the South. Another challenge is the difficulty of providing services in the complex and diverse landscape of aboriginal languages in the North.
Concern was voiced that the federal government, by way of LAC or other means, needs to work more forcefully to overcome regional disparities. The hope was voiced that LAC would become an active partner in advancing library services over a vast landmass, to the over 46,000 citizens in widely dispersed communities. Most participants expressed the opinion that the diminution of interlibrary loan services from LAC meant that, in effect, there is no library of last resort for northern library patrons. Moreover, the fear was voiced that the North’s ability to pay licensing fees is limited and as a result access is being rapidly curtailed.
Our conversation at Yellowknife Public Library engaged librarians and members of the public. We heard about the provision of services for the community including traveling exhibits, Canada Council authors’ readings, music performances, reading groups, rehearsal space, an enlarged graphic novel collection, and the addition of a Writer’s Room. We were struck by the collaboration of the library and literacy groups in advancing a common and pressing concern. Among the most prominent suggestions for networking and reaching out to the community was the idea to establish kiosks at rec centres and soccer pitches—that is—bringing the library to the people. As one participant expressed, the image of the public library in Yellowknife needs to change, and it’s visibility should be increased. Another suggestion was to use social media to promote the library, and to encourage advocacy for the library by vocal champions.
We have identified key threads in our conversation in Yellowknife, and they are as follows:
- Participants mentioned the need for a strong leadership role from LAC in library and archival services and the need to articulate and uphold national standards in library and archival records and preservation.
- There is a marked trend from the physical to the digital, however there are issues surrounding access and equitable distribution. Although there is great interest in e-book and other digital services, there is widely-expressed concern over the inability to stream smoothly because of inadequate bandwidth. The disparity here is between government funded internet services available through the library and privately contracted home computer internet access. However, not all homes have a computer, or internet access.
- In response to this issue of bandwidth, DVDs are still widely used as a reliable medium for the present. There is concern that DVDs will soon disappear and that this format that is widely used will no longer be accessible. The issue here is one of access to technology that is becoming obsolete, but is still in wide use in the North.
- There is a strong need to make library services more robust and widely accessible to a variety of citizens and in a way that accommodates the rhythms of their lives.