The public library in Swift Current has experienced another busy year with an increase in program attendance and in-branch circulations.
Library activities during 2019 were discussed at the annual general meeting of the Swift Current Branch Library board, March 4.
“We’ve had a very busy and positive year,” Branch Manager Andrea McCrimmon said after the meeting. “The library has been used more than ever. Our circulation – physical material, eBooks and eAudiobooks – is at an all-time high and our program attendance is also at an all-time high. Program attendance is up slightly over last year, but over the past six years it’s up 58 per cent.”
The library has 12 staff members and she expressed appreciation towards them for their dedication to provide a service to the community.
“We serve a really wonderful community here and I think I can speak for everyone where we find our jobs very rewarding,” she said.
There were 102,204 in-person visits to the library in 2019, which was a slight decline compared to the 104,484 visits in 2018. However, the in-branch circulation of library material increased from 122,235 in 2018 to 123,633 in 2019.
The eBooks and eAudiobooks circulation continued to increase from 17,763 in 2018, representing 13 per cent of total circulation, to 20,282 in 2019, which was 16 per cent of total circulation.
“More people are using eBooks and eAudiobooks, and we’ve done a lot of work over the past year or two to show people how to use our new Libby App, which lets people access our digital collection over their mobile devices,” she explained. “I think the increase is partly that and partly that people are having more demands for eBooks and eAudiobooks.”
During the year the library was open to the public for 3,360 hours. There were 1,181 library programs and 12,402 program attendees, 399 one-on-one technology help sessions, and there were 11,636 public computer uses as well as 8,035 Wi-Fi users.
The library became more accessible during the year after the Chinook Regional Library approved an increase in opening hours for the Swift Current Branch Library, which started in June 2019. The library is now open on Sundays throughout the summer and also on Sundays during holiday weekends.
“People are on summer holidays or parents are off work on Sundays and want to bring their kids down, and also people who are using the library on a daily basis still need the library on Sundays,” she said. “We did a patron survey a couple of years ago and found out that people really wanted their library to be open more often and have more regular hours, and because our library keeps growing in Swift Current, it was a good time for us to increase our open hours.”
These changes will add an average of 63 additional open hours per year. According to McCrimmon there has been positive feedback from the public about the changes to library hours.
“It’s been really positive and our visits are very steady on Sundays,” she said. “It gets busy on Sundays once in a while too.”
From a financial perspective there is not a significant additional expense to have the library open to the public on Sundays.
“In terms of the finances it wasn’t a huge financial commitment,” she said. “So we thought it was a really good use of our staffing budget to invest that in extra opening hours.”
Children’s programs at the library continued to be well attended. The summer was a busy time for the library and 538 children registered to participate in the TD Summer Reading Club.
There were several successful teen programs during 2019. The Sage Hill Teen Writing Experience took place at the library for a fourth year. There were 10 participants last year and it was presented by Val Marie author and performing artist Madonna Hamel.
An outcome of this weeklong writing camp was the creation of the Young Writers’ Inkstitute that meets once a month under the guidance of Hamel to give participating teens the opportunity to continue to develop their writing skills.
The library started a new teen book-to-film club in 2019, which is sponsored by the Swift Current Kiwanis Club. Participants received their own copies of four popular books that were made into films and they met five times over the summer to discuss the books and watch the films. It was the first time that some of these teens participated in a library program and some were newcomers to Canada.
A variety of adult programs were presented at the library during the year and seniors continue to be major participants in these activities. Events that previously took place at the Senior Citizens’ Activity Centre, which closed two years ago, are now located at the library, for example weekly gatherings to play various games such as Bridge, Whist, Scrabble and Cribbage.
Bob Fletcher, who coordinates the arrangements for these games, attended the library’s annual general meeting and expressed his appreciation towards library staff.
“I love the library,” he told the Prairie Post afterwards. “The atmosphere is so good, there's a lot of windows, you can see good and it's a big enough place for us. We got to make a little extra room once in a while, but we get by very well.”
The age of the players will vary from 40 to 80, but most are seniors. They play on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they have anywhere from eight to 11 tables with four players per table. Participants will pay $2 to play, and 50 cents from this amount per player is donated to the library.
Fletcher felt it was important to attend the annual general meeting to hear how the library is doing.
“I don't want to ever see the library close,” he said. “It's too important to a lot of seniors.”
He noted that games participants will also spend additional time in the library during their visits to read or to visit with each other.
“Lots of them who come in, they're reading a book while they're waiting to play cards,” he said. “There's one guy in particular, I got to go get him all the time, because he's in the books and when it's time to play he's not there yet. So I know where he is.”
McCrimmon felt the library plays a significant role in the community to provide services to a variety of users with different needs.
“We have an important role in the community, first for lifelong learning, for helping people access information and services that they wouldn’t be able to access without the library,” she said. “We have an important role in people’s recreation lives. So we help people have fun in their downtime, whether it’s through reading trashy novels or borrowing DVDs or playing computer games, but we also help people with really important skills in their lives, like learning how to use their computer or smartphone, how to write a resume or send out job applications or access important government forms online. So we play a really important role in so many different aspects of people’s lives.”
There is a senior’s outreach program to bring library services to about 100 home-bound residents around the city. Senior outreach staff and volunteers will make monthly trips to eight care homes and retirement communities in Swift Current and they check out over 400 items each month.
Lack of space in the library for collections and programs can be a challenge. Library programs can be crowded and there might be a shortage of quiet work and study space for the public.
“We are working to make our furnishing more flexible and get everything on wheels and lightweight so that we can move things around as we need to,” she said. “Often we’re using one space for multiple purposes, which involve a lot of moving furniture. Also, our library users are learning to share the space better and not expect that the library is quiet all the time.”
The relocation of the Chinook Regional Library’s headquarters to a larger building in the near future might help to alleviate the space shortage, because there will be additional programming space available at the new location.
“We’ll have to wait and see how it works out for people, because it’s not centrally located, but we’re eager to give it a try and see how our library users like it,” she said.
McCrimmon felt positive about the way things have been going for the Swift Current Branch Library during the past few years.
“We’ve seen year after year of increase in library users,” she said. “We’ve also had a steady source of funding over the last two years. So we thank the provincial government as well as the City of Swift Current for recognizing the importance of the stable source of funding for the public library and I think we’re in really good shape to carry on into the future and adapting to the needs of the people of Swift Current.”
Note: The Swift Current Branch Library and all other Chinook Regional Library branches have been closed since March 16 until further notice due to concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Libraries across the province are waiving late fines during this period. A variety of online services, including the province-wide Library2go collection of eBooks and eAudiobooks are available to patrons.