Rewriting their narratives: local libraries are becoming hubs of technology

At the Ontario Library Association's super conference hundreds of librarians gathered to discuss how libraries can stay relevant and tell their own story in a modern age.

Library programming expands to include more digital options to stay relevant, the service says

Ontario Library Assoc. panel: (left) Rod Charles, Linda Hazzan, Daphne Wood and Nini Krishnappa (Stephanie Matteis)

Record a podcast. Borrow musical instruments. Heck, even learn to weave.

Those aren't activities people typically think of doing at a public library, but they're all possible at many Toronto branches.

The offerings are just part of the library's shift to stay relevant in the digital age, Linda Hazzan, a spokeswoman for Toronto Public Library said.

The library saw more than 8,000 people use the "digital innovation hubs" found at three branches, which include everything from 3D printing, to recording studios and coding programs. 

"Today it might be a story time and tomorrow might be a maker program," Hazzan said. The so-called maker programs teach kids and adults new skills: think crafting, web design and video production.

Daphne Wood, Pres. B.C. Library Assoc. (Susie Jones)

Hazzan and other scholars are trying to figure out how to draw those people back to the library who associate it more with books than they do with all the other technology available there.

She, travel journalist Rod Charles and public relations consultant Nini Krishnappa tackled the issue recently at the Ontario Library Association's conference.

Charles said the library needs to emphasize all its online offerings: he turned to its tutorials recently when he decided he wanted to learn a new language.

"You can learn for free," he said. "They have French, they have Farsi, they have German, they even have pirate."

There's also Lynda, the library's online tutorial, which has more than 3,500 video tutorial courses led by experts on technology topics.

Childhood memories

Krishnappa's relationship with the library dates back to his childhood. His mother was a librarian for 30 years and at one time he held a part-time job at an Ottawa library himself.

Yet Krishnappa said he hasn't been to a library since he began buying books and accessing information on computers and now his phone.

​'Modern day libraries are an untold story.'​- Nini Krishnappa, PR consultant

Krishnappa who now works in public relations said the libraries may be evolving but the challenge is getting that story out.

"Libraries have kept up and anticipated needs. It's just that people are not aware of the plethora of new offerings and services they provide," he said. "M​odern day libraries are an untold story."


When Hazzan first started at the reference library a decade ago she said e-book borrowing was at two per cent and it's now at 15 per cent.

Daphne Wood, president of the B.C. library association said that evolution means "you never have to step foot inside a library, because they're everywhere."

Wood said that libraries consider computers, wifi and internet access just the basics — and it's becoming common for branches across the country to provide other technology like green screens to make videos.

The Toronto Public Library at a glance:

  • 18 million visits each year
  • 32 millions items circulated annually
  • 37,000 programs held each year
  • Almost a million people attended programs in 2016


Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: and @CBCsteph on Twitter.