Pam Ryan has always felt happiest in the library. While she loves the traditional materials and programs libraries offer, the director of collections and technology is also at the forefront of Edmonton Public Library’s efforts to provide public access to new resources and technologies. It’s just one of the reasons EPL received the 2014 Library of the Year award from Library Journal magazine and Gale Cengage Learning. Although she’s now an administrator, Ryan will always be a librarian at heart.
How has being a librarian evolved?
Librarians still develop and provide services for the communities that it’s their mandate to serve. I think we’re more responsive to what our communities need. For example, Edmonton Public Library has outreach workers who provide services and supports inside and outside library walls to support at-risk individuals. The library is open to everybody; it’s one of the last public spaces. We have people from all walks of life in our libraries, and some people need assistance. One of the reasons the outreach program is so popular is the clients will say, “I already feel safe in the library.” We also have a community librarian at every branch whose role is to spend time outside of the library connecting with community organizations and learning how the library can help them meet their goals.
How do you see the current role of the public library? How is that role changing?
Public libraries have always been about equitable access to culture and information and a space for it all to take place. We still share books, but we also have video games, comic books, graphic novels, as well as digital collections of eBooks, movies, music and online courses. We still have book clubs, but now we also have “learn to use open-source robotics kits” programs. But things like access to new technology — to me it is about one of the last public spaces where communities invest and take care of each other so that everybody has equitable access to shared resources.
What’s the Makerspace at the main branch? How have library visitors responded to it?
Some Edmontonians own 3-D printers, some have high-end computers, but we want to make sure that everybody has access to those tools. We provide these technologies [which also include a bookmaking machine, gaming consoles, green screens, two sound recording studios and mixing booths], and people can come as individuals or together as a community to learn and grow. It’s been really surprising to people — the kinds of things that we have in there, that it’s staffed and we provide support.
Why are public libraries including services like makerspaces, computers and literacy vans?
Libraries were one of the first places to offer Internet access and computer access for free. That’s still one of our most popular services. The things that people are doing on computers have obviously changed since we first put them in, but libraries have always been about equitable access. So whether it’s technology or resources, a makerspace provides access to everyone.
The epl2go vans provide both regular literacy services, such as our early literacy programs, as well as digital literacy programs. Edmonton is growing at a huge rate. Despite the fact that we’re building a number of branches [around the city], there’s still a lot of need. The literacy vans are designed to get out into underserved areas — schools, daycares, seniors centres, community leagues and all of those places where they don’t have a library yet.
What does winning Library of the Year mean for you?
I was so incredibly proud of all the staff who got to share in it. It has put a spotlight on the really good work that we’re doing in Edmonton and shown that it really is top-of-the-world work in public libraries. EPL’s mission is “we share,” so we’re happy to share our story with everyone who contacts us because that benefits all public libraries.
This interview has been condensed and edited.