Sound-proof music room, anyone? What users want in a new central Saskatoon library

People agree on two things: there should be more books, and more spaces for people to break the silence.

Additional meeting and work space would also be nice, say patrons

The Saskatoon Public Library system is gathering feedback on what people want to see in a new central library branch. CBC News took a trip to the current downtown branch to speak in hushed tones with patrons about their thoughts and library habits. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

People have different ideas on what a new central library branch in Saskatoon should offer, but they agree on at least two things: there should be more books — and more spaces for people to break the silence.

"You need to give people a chance to talk and express themselves," said patron Tom McConnell in a hushed tone, while sitting at a computer station at the downtown Frances Morrison Library on Saturday.

Libraries, he said, are "for being open-minded and being willing to listen."

The comment comes as the Saskatoon Public Library launches a month-and-a-half-long process to get people's thoughts on how they would use a relocated downtown library.

The current building at the corner of 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue, across from city hall, dates back to 1965.

It is "currently non-compliant with all significant building codes including fire, mechanical, electrical and accessibility," and has been that way for at least 17 years, according to Saskatoon libraries CEO Carol Cooley.

Once consultations wrap up next month, it's expected to take the SPL board of governance 12 to 18 months to pitch a potential design, budget and relocation site to city councillors.

More books, please

McConnell says he uses the library to surf the internet, as he doesn't have a computer at home. He likes to scribble down "inspirational quotes" he finds on Facebook.

His backpack was stuffed with books.

Tom McConnell uses the library to surf the internet but his book-stuffed bag feels like a ton of bricks … or books, in this case. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"I think a bigger location would offer, likely, more books," he said.

Seated near McConnell at a table, working on her laptop, was Karen Fraser Gitlitz.

"This branch is a great resource place for me between meetings if I'm downtown or like today [when my office] building's in use," she said.

Karen Fraser Gitlitz sometimes does work at the library and would like to see more plugs for computers. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

She, too, would like to see more books on the shelves, though she understands that leaving the top shelves of racks empty avoids making books inaccessible to some.

CUPE Local 2669, the union local that represents SPL workers, has raised concerns about the process of "weeding" books from the library shelves, even beyond making books easy to reach for.

"It's been happening for so long that you don't notice it," said CUPE local 2669 president Pam Ryder.

In January, a larger-than-normal selection of books kept in storage was offered for sale in the library basement.

The library held a pop-up sale offering a large selection of books to patrons in January. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"I think it's really important for the library to be focusing on all forms of communication — all the different type of media that people are using to exchange information," said Fraser Gitlitz.  

"But that doesn't mean we let go of books. Books are still important."

People plug plug-ins

So are electrical outlets to plug in phones, iPads and the laptop like the one Fraser Gitlitz was using on Saturday.

"Where's the nearest outlet? I don't see one. We've got radiators on the walls," she said on the main floor.

Upstairs in the library's arts and entertainment section, his laptop plugged into one of the few available outlets, French-speaking writer Lilian Nguema-Emane advocated not just for more books, but for more materials in other languages.

Lilian Nguema-Emane wants to see books in more languages than English and a soundproof music room where teenagers can jam. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"I do understand that we live in Saskatoon and the majority is Anglophone but … there are many people looking for more materials, for example, in French," he said.

Nguema-Emane uses the library scanner and printer. At 10 cents a page, "They have the cheapest price for printing in town," he said.

But one new feature he'd like to see in a relocated branch is a soundproof space where teenagers can practise and learn music.

"There is nothing really to help teeangers that have a project doing music or writing," he said.

La La Land DVD a top draw

SPL's strategic plan, released in late 2016, focused in part on turning the library into a gathering place.

"More than books, today's libraries are people places," Cooley co-wrote in an introductory message.

The last survey on patrons' use of the city-wide library system, conducted in the summer of 2014, found that books still stood tall.

Eighty-one per cent of regular and occasional library users took out adult fiction and non-fiction books. Other types of material, and the percentage of patrons who borrowed them, were:

  • DVDs (34 per cent).
  • CDs (21 per cent).
  • Children's materials (19 per cent).
  • Ebooks and audiobooks (about 10 per cent — more than double the number of people in 2011).

Last year the most requested item among SPL patrons was not a book but the DVD of the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling modern L.A. musical La La Land.

DVDs like the one for the musical La La Land are among the most frequently drawn items in the SPL system, though books remain the top attraction, according to a survey done in 2014. (Saskatoon Public Library)

An online survey about a new central library is available on the SPL website, with the consultation process wrapping up on Apr. 15.

An open house will take place at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market on March 28.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

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