Share this post!
by Jessie Bach
This month, I connected with Library Director Rachel Dick-Hughes to talk about the Strathmore Municipal Library. The team at the Strathmore Library rang in the New Year by eliminating fines and fees for their patrons. In my interview with Rachel, she discusses how they were able to take that step, as well as many other innovative things going on at the library.
About the town:
The Town of Strathmore has roughly 14,000 residents and is located about thirty minutes east of Calgary on the Trans-Canada highway. It’s far enough from the city to be a hub in the region, drawing people in from the surrounding rural areas. Strathmore has held on to its small-town feel, and recently there has been a real resurgence of small, local businesses.
About the library:
The Strathmore Municipal Library was founded sometime between 1945 and 1948. It has had several homes, including the top floor of the town hall, a room in a local school, and a “small shack at the south end of the Strathmore Hotel.” Today, the library is located just north of downtown Strathmore at 85 Lakeside Boulevard. The library expanded in 2017, gaining a large program room, more office and workspace, and more collection and computer space for the public. You can read a lot more about the past and present of the Strathmore Library on their website.
About the Library Director:
Rachel Dick-Hughes has been the Director at the Strathmore Library for nine years. She started as an intern, freshly out of her Master’s degree. Only a few short months later, the Board entrusted her with the role of Director.
Congratulations are due as Rachel is expecting a baby and will be going on maternity leave in May! The Board will soon be hiring an Interim Director—keep an eye on their website and Facebook feeds for the posting.
JB: What do you love most about your job?
RDH: What I love is that in one day I can work with a committee of eight different organizations to plan a large community conference, approve a great idea from a staff member for a new initiative, help a child find just the right book about trains, and chat with regular patrons about what they’ve read lately or how their new grandbabies are doing. I love the variety of ways that I get to connect to the community.
JB: What’s a typical day like at the Strathmore Library?
RDH: We often have an early literacy program in the morning, and then our regulars come in to use the space to play cards or work on a craft project. People will come in needing help to print something or to access something online. In the winter, families come to the library for a change of scenery, so it gets a bit noisy and chaotic. We often have students who find a quiet corner to work on their courses online, and other local organizations meet with their clients at the library. Of course, plenty of people come in to pick up holds, check out new books, and have a chat with our friendly staff.
JB: What is the biggest challenge you face at your library?
RDH: Day-to-day, ensuring visitors to the library abide by the rules (wear masks) is tough. It puts the staff in a very difficult position.
The future of library programming is a big question. COVID has thrown such a wrench into things, and our teen and adult programs have really suffered. We will need to do some hard work to regain momentum there, and it may take some time to learn what kind of offerings will draw people back to in person events when it’s safe.
JB: Your library recently eliminated membership fees and overdue fines! How were you able to make this change? How have your patrons, and the community responded to the library going fines-and-fees-free?
RDH: This was an amazing way to start the new year! COVID’s disruptions had meant that for both 2020 and 2021, revenue from fines and memberships was down compared to previous years. As we looked at the budget for 2022, I mentioned to the Library Board that we were only $21,000 (or about $1.50 per capita) away from being able to eliminate those fees. They liked the idea, and our Board Chair sent an email to our newly elected Town Council in October that included that information. The next thing we knew, a budget increase had been approved and we were ready to go fee-free for 2022!
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many long-standing library members have expressed how glad they are to see those fees eliminated and their hopes that the library will be able to serve those traditionally underserved by libraries in our community.
My favourite moment so far was when a senior came in to register for a card. She told us she had never had a library card in her life because she couldn’t afford it. What a beautiful thing to know that won’t happen again.
JB: Looking back at the past two years, how has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how your library delivers service?
RDH: One of the most notable changes has been a stronger emphasis on Reader’s Advisory. When browsing the stacks was no longer an option, we had people asking us to choose a stack of books they might enjoy based on their reading history. The staff worked hard to grow in this area, and we received a lot of positive feedback from patrons, including one who said she didn’t know how she could ever go back to choosing her own books.
The biggest takeaway from the pandemic is how important just a short interaction can be to an individual. Curbside pickups took us longer than expected, because patrons would want to stick around for a chat. Others mentioned to us how much they missed their weekly outings to the library and the opportunity to be around other people. Now our staff are much more diligent about greeting everyone who comes in and initiating conversations. And if a patron has settled in for a long chat and a queue starts to form, they call for another staff member instead of rushing the conversation to an end. Connecting with people is an important part of our job.
JB: What other exciting programs, opportunities or initiatives are on offer at the Strathmore Library?
RDH: We’ve recently launched a couple of new initiatives, including automatic renewals and automatic holds. Patrons can fill in a list of their favourite authors, and we’ll place holds on their new titles as they come into the catalogue. Anything that makes it easier for our patrons to enjoy good books is something we are interested in doing.
The Book Buddies program provides children with one-on-one support to build confidence in reading and help children who are struggling. This year we also collaborated with our local Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) on their New Horizons Grant to offer iPads for loan to seniors with access to video tutorials on things like yoga, Bannock making, paint pouring, watercolour painting, and card making.
Our Smore Stuff Collection has grown a lot this year thanks to United Way funding. We now have items like a telescope, pickleball set, ukulele, shop vac, and more available for community members to borrow.
The library runs a Visiting Library program where our Coordinator connects with people who are unable to visit the library for whatever reason, and volunteers provide weekly delivery of library materials.
The Strathmore & Area Adult Inclusive Learning (SAIL) program helps adult learners reach their goals in the areas of reading and writing, English language skills, math, digital skills, and skills for learning. Our program launched two years ago, and this winter we were proud to see three participants successfully complete their GED!
JB: Anything else you’d like to add or share about the Strathmore Library or your experience as the Director?
RDH: One of the things I love about working at the library is that I get to be part of an incredible team of staff, volunteers, and board members, none of whom are there just to earn a paycheck. I am so proud of the way they all support each other and make the library a warm and welcoming place for everyone.
Library work is amazing because of the way nearly anything can fall under the mandate of serving the community’s need for lifelong learning. There is incredible opportunity in library work, so it never becomes stagnant, and I’m so thankful that I have ended up right here.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to Rachel for answering my questions about the exciting things happening at the Strathmore Municipal Library!
Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the useful and necessary services they provide.
Jessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta, and is a life-long library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Bibliographic Services Manager at Marigold Library System where she manages the team that does acquisitions, cataloguing and processing of library material for Marigold’s thirty-six member libraries. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, four cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym.
Feature image credit: Photo of Strathmore Municipal Library provided courtesy of Rachel Dick-Hughes, Library Director.