Brian and Linda Harrop use the new touch screen computer at the Whitehorse Public Library on Oct. 22, 2019. The station also has a easy to read keyboard and an oversized trackpad mouse. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Nifty tech next to your favourite novel

Assistive technology showcased as part of Yukon Libraries Week

Inside the Whitehorse Public Library, about a half-dozen employees stand next to a computer station learning about the new technology now available for patrons.

The yellow and black keyboard attached to the screen at the computer station features large keys with equally large letters, for those with visual impairments.

The keyboard is one of the stars of Yukon Libraries Week, which wraps up with the annual open house celebration at the Whitehorse Public Library Oct. 26.

The focus this year is on accessibility, removing barriers to ensure the library is a welcoming place for all, Melissa Yu Schott, director of public libraries for the Yukon government, said during an Oct. 22 interview

That effort — which came thanks to a grant of just under $15,000 from the federal government — has seen Yukon public libraries staff working over the last two years to find just the right technology.

“We know there is a need for these things,” Yu Schott said, adding staff who looked at exactly what gadgets would be most useful spoke with local organizations who serve clients that would benefit from assistive technology, such as Autism Yukon and seniors organizations in the city.

A desktop magnifier at the Whitehorse Public Library on Oct. 22, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The result is a variety of technology Yu Schott said will allow more people to “fully participate and engage” at the library, whether that be using the new hearing loop to take in a presentation or event in the meeting room or choosing whether to sit or stand (thanks to hydraulics in the table) at one of the two new computer stations.

There’s also a news magnifier that can change the background colour of a document or magnify it to see it more clearly.

The C-PEN can call out words it scans on a page or look up their definition using the built-in dictionary, a tool that can help those with dyslexia.

There are also a couple of Daisy readers which makes it easier for those with impaired vision to access a variety of listening options — USB, CD, download — for audio books; and an iPad packed with apps to assist.

“They’re all really cool,” Yu Schott said of the new gadgets, adding staff have learned all the features and how to use them so they can show those who have come in to the library and test it out.

Yu Schott said she hopes by highlighting the assistive tools now available during Yukon Libraries Week, residents will learn what’s there that can help them or family and friends who might now come to the library a little more often knowing the tools are there that can make the library experience that much better.

“It changes the way you connect with the library,” Yu Schott said.

The Whitehorse library will serve as home base for the various tech devices, but Yu Schott said if there are requests from community libraries many of the gadgets could be shipped out.

Yu Schott said staff will monitor the demand and how the technology is used to determine where any future investment should go if a funding opportunity for such a purchase comes up again.

The addition of the assistive technology is part of the ongoing evolution of libraries.

Gone are the days of the library being solely a place of book lending, Yu Schott said as she made her way through the facility.

A C-PEN is used to scan words and sentences on a page to look up their definition using the built-in dictionary, or to read the word out loud to help those with dyslexia at the Whitehorse Public Library on Oct. 22, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Computer stations are often all fully in use with others stationed on couches making use of the library’s wifi or just perusing one of the library’s magazines.

A kids’ area boasts not only large shelves full of board books, picture books, books for first-time readers on up to novels for older kids, but also has an area full of toys where kids can play.

There are also shelves full of DVDs and CDs to borrow.

A trip down what Yu Schott described as the library’s “secret staircase” reveals much more about the role of the library as a community-builder.

That’s where you find collections of the same book there for local book clubs to sign out. The recent Indigenous book club that was started in collaboration with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation is proving a success, Yu Schott noted.

It’s one of many events that happen at the library. There are also regular story times for babies and toddlers and children’s programming, and for adults there are board game nights as well as role-playing game nights hosted in partnership with a number of community groups.

Local organizations can also book the meeting room at the library, adding to the number of community events happening there.

Meanwhile, community libraries are also a big piece of the picture in various parts of the territory. A volunteer board operates each community library to meet that community’s needs, with one employee at most, though larger communities may have another part-time or auxiliary staffer.

Yu Schott said work is done with the community libraries to help ensure they have a wide variety of material for each along with providing those books, DVDs and CDs that may be in higher demand in a community.

A Whitehorse Public Library patron tries out the handheld magnifier, which can change the colour of words on a page and backgrounds for easier reading, on Oct. 22, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The library week festivities at the Whitehorse Public Library will formally wrap up Oct. 27. Patrons have until then to enter the Yukon Libraries Week Challenge. The challenge invites residents to visit six libraries in Whitehorse where they will get answers to questions in the challenge. Those who answer all the questions will be entered into a prize draw.

On Oct. 26 the Whitehorse Public Library will host its open house from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. with kids’ activities and cake to celebrate. Patrons will also get to try out the new technology.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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