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Monday, May 12, 2014

Saskatchewan Library Association

Back on May 2, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Saskatchewan Library Association. The location was Moose Jaw, a town of about 40,000. It has a nice vibe: a mix of historic buildings, a lovely old downtown park, and a number of live theaters. 

It wasn't a big conference - I suppose there were about 150 attendees. Most of the public libraries, I gather, are part of municipalities, and get their money from the general fund, and the province. Speaking at the opening event for the conference were the local mayor, and several provincial elected officials. All spoke highly of the importance of libraries. Privately, I've been told that this support is more moral than financial.

In general, it appears that the issues affecting libraries are much the same in North America. There is, nonetheless, a sense that although Canadians have funding woes, too, they don't seem to operate in the highly charged anti-government atmosphere of the states. I think this comes down to the fundamental premise of the United States (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) versus the Canadian motto (peace, order, and good government). Although there is currently a Conservative Prime Minister (Stephen Harper), Canadian Conservatives would pass for moderates here.

I came away again thinking that Canadians do tend to live up the stereotype I have of them: smart, very pleasant, and cooperative. Kind of like librarians generally.

The Moose Jaw Library was an interesting mix of old (a sort of Carnegie-era entry off the park), and new (a later addition that was fairly modern). Inside, it felt much like a good US library: a large, well-appointed children's space, a well-maintained collection, public computers. Upstairs was a meeting room. Attached was a small museum and theater. As is true of many US libraries, though, I didn't see a lot of merchandising: the collection is formal, spine-out. But it did have people in it.

My topic was ebooks, and I would say our northern colleagues are as thoughtful about this potentially disruptive change to our operations as anyone here. I hope to be able to get back to work with library boards and leaders up there again sometime.

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