Regional library stays relevant in tough times

·3 min read

ST. MARY’S – The Eastern Counties Regional Library (ECRL) is counting on a digital future to keep the pages turning for readers from Guysborough to Cape Breton.

“We have greatly enhanced our digital content since the beginning of the pandemic,” ECRL CEO Laura Emery said in a wide-ranging email interview. “People are realizing that there are many convenient ways to use the library in addition to visiting a library branch.”

The ECRL – which provides public library services at eight branches in Guysborough, Inverness, and Richmond counties – is one of nine professional public library systems in Nova Scotia. It offers a library-by-appointment service for members who wish to visit during regular library hours, as well as borrow by mail and curbside pick-up services to those who prefer to keep their distance.

But, Emery said, “We have noticed growth in online registrations and increased use in our digital services.”

Thar trend was underway even before the pandemic.

A 2013 Pew Research poll found that in the United States, “Library patrons are eager to see libraries’ digital services expand, yet also feel that print books remain important in the digital age. The availability of free computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as a vital service of libraries.”

Last year, the Toronto Public Library reported: “Torontonians borrowed more than eight million eBooks. That’s compared to 6.6 million in 2019. Each year for the past five years, Toronto Public Library has lent more eBooks than any other library system in the world.”

While ECRL doesn’t claim these kinds of numbers, Emery said, “Libraries are more important than ever as they connect people to information and entertainment in what can be a very challenging and isolating time for many. An ECRL membership can provide free access to information and entertainment through downloadable books, movies, television, magazines, newspapers, music and more. Members can also engage in learning a new language or skill.”

That said – some challenges remain.

As CEO, Emery’s responsibilities include financial management, strategic planning, innovation, policy development, fundraising, communications and supervision of management staff. Her work helps to ensure that ECRL maximizes its resources for public benefit.

“The main difficulty is sustaining traditional forms of service, such as branch visits, while incorporating on-demand services such as borrow by mail or digital library services,” she said, adding: “Our small library spaces also present a challenge to allowing members to visit the library. Library by appointment has been our solution to this challenge, allowing us to continue safely welcoming visitors.”

Meanwhile, Amanda Campbell, ECRL’s branch manager in Sherbrooke, is responsible for operations and ensuring that safe quality public library services are offered to everyone. Under her supervision, Emery noted, staff are happy to offer assistance over the phone and via email, if members have questions about these services.

“One of our exciting plans for 2021 is focussing on public communication, to make sure all our community members are aware of the growing variety of services we offer at library branches, over the phone, through the mail and online,” she said.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal