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Find more Notes from the Field
Borrowing library materials can expand patrons’ horizons in surprising ways, especially when checking out, say, an electric bass. I spoke to Maureen Penn, director of Lac La Biche County Library in Alberta, about why they started a circulating instrument collection, and what other cool collections they have on the horizon.
Susan: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your library.
Maureen: I’ve been in the field of librarianship for over 30 years. I’m originally from the East coast of Canada, and I’ve worked in a variety of libraries, including special libraries, school libraries, and public libraries as well. Lac La Biche itself has about 3,000 people, and our whole county is about 10,000. Lac La Biche County Library has two branches, and we have pop-up locations—of course, that was pre COVID. And we can hardly wait to get back to those because those are serving our indigenous communities. We do notice in our area that there is a big technology divide, financial divide, as well as access to a variety of resources, including musical instruments.
Susan: What made you realize there was a need for a musical instrument collection?
Maureen: We knew we wanted to diversify our collection more than we already had. We have board games, we have steam punk kits; anything that supported science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. We have a video game console; we loan out an iPad and a Samsung tablet. We have digital story telling kits that can be used by our indigenous communities or anybody that wants to record a story. We’ve never sat down and just said, you know, we’re just going to be all about books.
We meet with community members and get their feedback, and that’s another way we identified that need to diversify our collection. We’re two and a half hours northeast of Edmonton, where the nearest music store is. We wanted people to have the opportunity to try an instrument before they invested the money. We were very thankful to get a grant from the Kimberley Foundation, the Pat Morris grant.
Susan: How did you decide what would go into the collection?
Maureen: The schools have a band program, but we wanted to stay away from band instruments because students can rent those instruments for the school year. We have a ukulele; half-size, three quarter-size, and full-size violins; percussion kits with a variety of instruments in them; two drum boxes; a keyboard; a bass; electric and acoustic guitars; a mandolin; two xylophones; bongos; and other drums. And we’re happy to say, even though we’re back to being closed to the public again (for the third time) we are doing curbside pickup, including curbside pickup of musical instruments. And so far we’ve had a big uptake on—believe it or not—the banjo. I don’t think the banjo has sat on the shelf except for quarantine when we were fully closed.
In addition to the instrument, we also include accessories, and books and information on how to play the instrument. If they want a bass guitar, they get the amp, they get the bass. Plus we also have LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), which has some musical resources, and we are part of a consortium, so there are additional resources that people can access as well.
Susan: How do you deal with cataloging and processing? Did you have to establish new checkout procedures?
Maureen: Well, we don’t do our own original cataloging since we’re part of a consortium; we send it to our headquarters at the Northern Lights Library System. There are notes in the catalog that show everything in each kit. We had already established some great procedures in terms of games and other kits that we have, so we have content notes on the box or, in the case of the musical instruments, a little card that’s attached to it with the bar code and a list that says this kit includes such and such. So the library member can look at it and say, Oh, I’m missing something. Where is the cable for the guitar? Or, Oh, the case, I need to put it in the case.
We don’t ask them to fill out anything different to check out an instrument. They just have their library membership. If they lose a part that’s not a consumable, then they get a little charge on their account. If something is damaged and not repairable, then it’s the full charge of the item. Right now we do have something informally in place that if the family has a hardship, they can work off the charges of the lost or damaged items for us. And we don’t charge overdue fines and fees, nor do we charge for memberships.
Susan: You talked about continuing to diversify your collection—what do you have coming up next?
Maureen: Hopefully by the end of June, we will have five telescopes, one heavy duty, two beginner, and some sort of intermediate telescopes that will be available for loan. We’re very excited about that. And then in the fall, if all goes well and everything’s cataloged, we will actually be launching our cake-pan lending.
That came out of the responses to a survey. We asked, would you like to see a seed library? We didn’t ask about costumes, but we did ask about dance outfits because we have a very strong dance school here, the Northern Beats Academy. And we asked about a living library or a human library. The top choices were the telescope, the cake pans, and the living library, though that is on hold because we’re sort of hoping there are other interested libraries in our region who might take that on so it can be done on a larger scale.
Susan: Any advice for libraries looking to diversify their collections?
Maureen: Make sure when you connect to the community that the survey is easily accessible to members and non-members. We had our survey on our website and social media so that people who didn’t come into the library could give their feedback. And don’t assume that you know what your community is going to want. I think I would have put the seed lending library high a lot higher on the list, but that wasn’t one of the needs that our community designated.
Susan: Instead, it’s nothing but banjos. Thank you, Maureen!
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