Sadly, May 2015 concludes my service as a Trustee on the Edmonton Public Library Board. For the past six years (a two-year term renewed to a maximum of three consecutive terms) I have served as a community member in supporting policy governance for one undoubtedly one of the finest libraries in Alberta (Canada? The world? The cosmos?) and institutions in our city. You might say that it is the end of my renewals and it is time to lend the book to another trusted patron...
As you likely know, the City of Edmonton has numerous opportunities for citizens to engage with our institutions (See the 25 Agencies, Boards, and Commissions and Task Force Opportunities: http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/city_organization/agencies-boards-commissions.aspx) In 2009, I was one of the citizens who was fortunate to apply and fill one of the vacancies on the board. The commitment included monthly board meetings (dealing with the fiduciary, strategic, and generative governance aspects of the library) committee meetings, budget meetings, community events (Freedom to Read is my favorite) and phenomenal professional development opportunities.
Six years later, my time serving on the Edmonton Public Library Board has been one of my most rewarding and personal growth experiences. I have treasured our Tuesday evening discussions and the brilliant citizens and senior staff who have shared with me their wisdom and their mentorship. Service to EPL has been an incredible personal development opportunity— both in terms of formal professional development offered through service but also through the lessons I’ve learned about being a good board member and a contributor to a team. You have a chance to think strategically about the big-picture of a multi-million dollar organization while balancing different competing values, interests and mitigating factors. Through the creation of good policy we were able to move ahead together through many tricky conversations— intellectual freedom, library access, marketing and advertising, equity, fund development, library locations, fine policy, membership fees, and many more complex issues.
The Edmonton Public Library surpasses expectations and definition of what a library is or should be. From the video games and digital content to the important social services that our community librarians offer daily, the EPL Team is constantly brainstorming how they can engage all Edmontonians — learning, engagement, and possibility. All of us ought to support the library with our time, talent, or treasure.
For those of you thinking of putting forward your name, without reservation I encourage you to do so. Here are some of the other highlights I experienced in my journey:
A supportive City Council: EPL has been well supported by civic leadership who “get it”. They understand that the livability of a community is just as important to the attraction and retention of labour as many other conventional dashboard indicators. They understand that literacy is the backbone to success for our city and that this is an area that makes economic and social sense and cents. I hope that this support continues in future budget cycles.
Access for all (free memberships!): Waiving the minimal membership fee has made a significant, quantifiable impact in making the library more accessible to more Edmontonians. Being part of a board and administration that drafted a plan to do so in a cost-neutral way that found efficiencies and increased fundraising revenue was a wonderful 100th birthday present to Edmontonians that I hope we can sustain in the future. We need to continue to remove barriers to access and this fee was more than a symbolic victory about the importance of the library as a public good—(which it is and I fundamentally agree with)— but it has already resulted in more material shared for our civic buck.
Re-conceptualizing the potential of the modern library: Service to the EPL Board has enlightened me to many of the fantastic functions of the modern library. Library operations are complex and fascinating. Community librarians. Makerspaces. Capital planning and open-space library architecture. Service to new immigrant communities, language minorities, aging citizens, urban aboriginals, and sexual identity and gender minority patrons. Holds and hardcovers were once the meat and potatoes, but EPL is constantly innovating to serve our ever-growing and diverse city in unique and creative ways.
Collaborating with amazing citizen leaders: The other volunteer board leaders I have had the privilege of working with are phenomenal individuals who I consider to be good friends and passionate advocates. They come from a wide array of backgrounds and each brought a unique perspective and contribution. I have learned so much from each of them.
Inspired EPL Staff: The EPL Staff are incredible. From the senior management to the front line staff, I found my interactions to be fascinating and I learned so much from their enthusiasm and passion for sharing. They are the backbone of our library and make every branch a welcoming and special space.
I cannot say enough kind words about our outgoing CEO as she transitions to new adventures. She has been pivotal in building EPL and she has left behind an incredible legacy. She is a national leader, teacher, and visionary. Read more about her acomplishments as a nationally (and now internationally recognized leader) recognized leader here: http://www.epl.ca/Linda-Cook-Retirement
ALTA: Working with the Alberta Library Trustees’ Association (and the Public Library Branch with Punch Jackson and Diana Davidson) was a fascinating learning experience about libraries throughout Alberta. Libraries are the cornerstones of our communities and crucial to sustaining quality of life in our province.
Library of the Year:
This is a major award. This is an incredible honor that must be given its due. Wow. Library experts from around North America (including many other cities with much bigger budgets) have rightly recognized our city and our library. Well done. http://www.epl.ca/libraryoftheyear
EPL Is an amazing public resource but we can really level-up our contribution to the community with the generosity of those who can share even more: http://www.epl.ca/support
I support the library with my time, talent, and treasure. I encourage you to do the same.
Get involved and apply today. Not just for the EPL board, but every board that piques your interest! Next Gen, the River Valley Alliance, the Police Commission— Get involved in your city today and help champion important causes in your community!