By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
While one immediately thinks of books when one thinks of libraries, Cobourg Public Library representatives at Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting of Cobourg council explained how this is just the beginning.
The library was represented by Chief Executive Officer Tammy Robinson and board chair Mike Duncan.
Duncan became involved with the library after returning to his home town about a year ago following a 30-year career in radio in Toronto. His 200-plus interviews with authors, given his love of the written word, represented the pinnacle of his career.
Back in Cobourg, he learned of a vacancy on the library board, and not only applied to join but also to offer his services as chair.
“Libraries are synonymous with civilization, storehouses, repositories of accumulated knowledge,” he said, though even this institution is changing in today’s fast-paced world.
Cobourg Public Library is handling the challenge with ingenuity, Duncan said, expanding its services to meet the needs of all ages, offering a place to connect with fellow members of the community as well as to borrow materials of all kinds, from books and CDs to telescopes and Lego. Knowledgeable staff are there to help with whatever is needed, from researching local history to photocopying newsletters.
“It’s a place for the young, the teen, the parent, the grandparent. It’s a place for the lonely. It’s a place where you can come and just be. It’s open to all, one of the remaining public spaces where there’s no expectation of having to spend money,” he said.
Robinson said public libraries are consistently ranked among the top three services most valued in a community, though community members often don’t understand the full range of services on offer.
Open seven days a week except for July and August, the Cobourg library is open an average of 54 hours a week. It provides contractual services to Hamilton Township, with a Bewdley branch and a Gore’s Landing branch open 13 and eight hours a week respectively. And on a 24/7 basis, there are the four (soon to be five) pop-up take-a-book-leave-a-book stations in Cobourg and Baltimore.
Robinson had a wealth of statistics ready to show how the community is making use of the library in 2023 (through May 31, at any rate).
10,140 active members (528 of them added in this calendar year)
62,024 physical items borrowed, as well as 19,855 e-books and e-audiobooks
6,866 patrons attending 296 programs
2,929 computer-use sessions, along with 9,109 wireless internet-use sessions
36,383 hits on their databases
44,000 patron visits (counting those who actually entered the interior library doors, not those who came to a function in the Rotary Room or just stopped in to use the washroom or check the Community Fridge
7,000-plus items donated by members of the community
472 inter-library loan transactions
1,067 transactions at 19 outreach events at such places at the Farmers Market, schools and Walmart
Sharing photos of some of their programming, councillors saw members of the Humane Society bringing kittens to a meeting of the Community Living Book Club, a visit by Cobourg Police and their mascot to a Storytime session, and assorted Star Wars creatures on hand for May The Fourth Be With You.
Fundraising is a given, Robinson said, and they have been successful for about half the nine grants they have applied for in 2023 – “which is about average. There’s a lot of competition out there.”
Their annual Loonie for the Library collection generally starts in June and finishes during Library Month in October. This year’s focus for this fundraiser is to support programming for all ages.
And one of her slides was crammed with logos of numerous community partners who have supported their work in various ways.
Robinson said that they had undergone a services review in 2019 due to budgetary constraints to bring their staffing model into line with the needs of the community as they provide programming, connect citizens to the information they need and serve the public at large.
Robinson said their special collection takes service levels in new directions, offering telescopes, Borrow and Build Lego, Bingo Bundles, Borrow and Play Musical Instruments, Ontario Provincial Park day-pass kits and Discovery Backpacks, as well as the seed library.
More recent innovations that respond to more basic needs are the Cozy Comforts Box, Socktober collection and Community Fridge.
The Cozy Comforts Box and Socktober collection place warm socks, scarves, mitts and hats out for anyone who needs them. Similarly, the fridge is stocked by local restaurants, bakeries, cafes, grocery stores and food banks for anyone in need.
“We were chosen because we are open seven days a week, and we are a warming and cooling place, and we welcome everyone.”
It’s a model other libraries are noticing, Robinson said, and they are preparing a presentation for a major library conference early next year.
“Those numbers are absolutely outstanding,” Councillor Adam Bureau declared – “and in five months.
“It just goes to show how hard you work, how hard the staff works and how hard the board works.”
“It also shows the community is growing as well, which means over 500 new memberships,” Robinson pointed out.
“We know the houses are being built. And we know people are living in them now, and they are coming to the library, so we are ready for however many come and visit us.”