KPL is Not Your Grandpa’s Public Library

When you think about the Kitchener Public Library, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If it’s a quiet building filled with books, you probably haven’t visited the KPL in a while.

“We really are changing from a sort of passive content repository to a creative-based institution,” said Mary Chevreau, KPL’s CEO. “The one thing about libraries is they’re always changing and always evolving.”

In January, KPL released their new strategic plan, where they outlined new programs and expansions on pre-existing services within the community. This plan, which will continue until 2020, is focused on four goals: working together, fostering belonging, igniting community conversations and fostering bold leadership. They’re focused on so much more than helping you find a great book to read.

“There are so many longstanding values to public library work, and a lot of things we hold dear and have for a long time, like inclusion, access, belonging, community partnerships. Then there are things that are changing as well,” explained Megan Clare, Manager of Strategic Planning and Projects. “I think sometimes when we think about our role … we know that we are many different things to many different people. People look for different things in the library and people interact with us in different ways.”

For some, the library continues to be a quiet space to curl up with a book, but for others it has become a creative hub for designing, building, inventing, exploring and accessing new hands-on learning programs and activities. The new strategic plan aims to embrace all of these facets of the library, and ensure that everyone is able to access information that they want and need.

KPL’s 2017 business plan includes expanding Studio Central (a hands-on digital media lab), curating a collection of musical instruments that can be borrowed, and once LRT is up and running, launching an ION Reads campaign that will utilize public transit as a medium for marketing the KPL’s e-book and digital magazine collections.

“I really do see value in the way in which the strategic plan articulates our longstanding and ongoing values and priorities,” Clare said.

However, these values and priorities are always changing based on new and emerging trends and demand from the general public. A large portion of the new strategic plan is focused on expanding access to, and a general understanding of, digital literacy.

“We value print literacy … but increasingly, digital literacy is important,” Clare explained. “Digital literacy does speak in a pretty important way to our mandate around inclusion and making sure that everyone has access to technology.”

Digital inclusion and digital literacy are huge issues in the region, and KPL is leading the way to make resources and knowledge available and accessible to the public.

“I think the value of community space where people engage is big. I also think there is a lot of conversation around hands-on learning and creating, and not just passive learning,” she continued.

“We’re really trying to change the definition of literacy,” echoed Chevreau. “It’s not just print literacy, it’s much larger than that, and so I think that is part of our message going forward: it is digital, it’s print, it’s music, it’s art, it’s dance, it’s sort of more the renaissance definition of literacy opposed to what we think of as an educational literacy.”

Many of KPL’s newer programs, such as their guest librarian, social-worker-in-residence, Lightbrary initiative, and Studio Central may seem innovative in terms of what a traditional library is, but to KPL they aren’t.

According to Clare, these initiatives are simply filling in gaps, and still align with KPL’s priorities of providing access to information, and offering an accessible, inclusive space where people can actively learn.

These programs offer the ability “to maintain our roots, but also be open to new directions and new opportunities,” she explained. “Some of those initiatives, like the guest librarian and the therapy lamps, are around that sense of community conversation, and sharing ideas, talking about healthy cities [and] talking about mental health, and so I think that some of the initiatives built on our role as a strong community partner, and a gathering space, and a place for community conversation.”While KPL may have some difficulty in finding a balance between all of their different programs, they are successfully catering to multiple audiences while constantly expanding and remaining relevant.

“People are starting to notice us in a different way,” said Chevreau.

KPL is no longer a place where you go to only find new books. It is also a place to meet friends for coffee, play virtual reality games, 3D print your latest designs and see live concerts. Their new strategic plan should bolster these programs while adding more for the public to experience. So if you haven’t been to KPL in a while, now is the perfect time to check it out.