Books really get around in the Yukon.
On a behind-the-scenes tour of the Whitehorse Public Library, with Joyce Kashman, librarian, and Julianne Ourom, director of the Yukon Public Libraries Branch, I saw hundreds of books in the shipping room, neatly shelved and organized. These books were passing through the library in Whitehorse (“the hub”) to the other 14 libraries in the territory.
“We are blessed with libraries in the Yukon,” Ourom says. “We are always mailing things back and forth from between the libraries, and we encourage people to request that service.”
Free shipping of books, DVDs, and audio books across the territory is just one part of the of the Yukon library system’s good karma.
“As a public library we want to provide access to a wide range of materials,” Ourom says. “What do you do if you are an adult and you want information on a medical condition that you don’t want anyone else to know about? Or, what if you are the hypothetical teen in Ross River that thinks he might be gay and doesn’t have anybody to talk to? Having access to materials through a library, we hope, helps a person with what they need.”
Between their physical collection, and a rapidly growing electronic catalogue, a lot of individual needs and interests are addressed. According to stats prepared by Whitehorse library for 2013/2014, there are 148,000 books, DVDs, paperbacks, etc. in circulation. This year, 10,500 titles were added to the Yukon-wide collection.
Those are just the materials you can hold in your hand.
“The majority of our circulation is the in-person borrowing of physical things like books, DVDs,” Ourom says. “At the same time, the use of our e-library has doubled again over the last year. It’s something people are very enthusiastic about.”
The e-library works well for the shy types, or for those icy days when you can’t get downtown. If you have the internet and a library card, you can access the e-library from home.
“When we opened the e-library we had all these people come in and sign-up for library cards, and then we never saw them again in person, because they access the e-library,” librarian Joyce Kashman says.
There are currently 1,700 downloadable titles in the e-library. Over 500 new e-titles were added this year.
If you don’t know what an e-library is, don’t panic.
“We meet a divergent group of users with differing skills and abilities, certainly not everybody is technologically savvy, so we do a lot of assistance,” says Ourom, “We help people who have no clue how to use a computer and couldn’t even imagine looking up a book on the catalogue.”
Ourom doesn’t predict a book-less future in our lifetime, but, she “wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years we remove some of the shelving and use the extra space for comfortable chairs for people to sit in and use [electronic] tablets.”
They have already accommodated the surge in reliance we have on computers and the internet. The Whitehorse library offers free wireless internet access throughout the space, and has public computers available for use.
“We have public internet, which is very important in Whitehorse, and in all the communities,” Ourom says. “People use our internet for everything from email, to social media, to booking flights.”
In the past year there were 24,000 one-hour computer sessions booked at the Whitehorse library. In the communities, 27,000 computer sessions were booked.
The library keeps evolving as our culture evolves, it’s not just a place to get a book.
“The whole concept of the library as a community meeting place is what will grow and expand in the future,” Ourom says. “How people access information is always changing, which is beyond our control, but I don’t think books are going to disappear that quickly.”
As much as Yukon libraries are adapting to the virtual world, nothing beats the calm, welcoming library environment, whether you are reading, or just seeking some peace. “We have people who come and just want to enjoy the views out the window,” says Ourom, “We have grandstand seats to everything happening on the river; we get beautiful sun rises in the winter through these windows.”
While seniors, children, and women use the Whitehorse library most, teens are borrowing from the large young adult and graphic novel sections, and hanging out in the comfortable lounge areas.
And youth have the librarians on their side
“If youth inquire about a book, and we don’t have it, I usually purchase it for circulation, so you can find books here on skateboarding, snowboarding, tattoos,” Kashman says.
And for the children, there are toys, two special kids’ computers, regular story times, and children’s programs. While Introducing toys to the children’s area increased the Whitehorse library noise level a bit, no one seems to mind.
“The library is not as quiet as libraries used to be, but still, if people want to come and read they should be able to do that,” Ourom says.
“It’s not about ‘shushing’ people”, agrees Kashman, who has worked at the Whitehorse library since 2009. “It’s a multifaceted job; when you work the circulation desk you don’t know what you are going to be asked, and you wind up learning from people’s questions.”
Ourom also finds it rewarding to be involved with the library.
“We know we make a positive difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Her ride with the library is coming to an end, however. Ourom will retire next month, having worked for 35 years as a librarian – and 24 of those years at the Whitehorse Public Library.
Her plans for retirement include “lots of travel, lots of crafts, lots of gardening, and camping.”
For more information about Yukon libraries go to www.ypl.gov.yk.ca.