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The new age of Whitehorse's library

Julie Ourom has an e-reader, but she still likes reading old-fashioned paper books. "I don't think it's one or the other," said the director of Yukon Public Libraries.

Julie Ourom has an e-reader, but she still likes reading old-fashioned paper books.

“I don’t think it’s one or the other,” said the director of Yukon Public Libraries. “I think ebooks add an extra dimension, but they don’t take away from the print at this point.

“I think it’s going to be a few years while we have a transition between print and electronic and, at this point, I don’t see the book totally disappearing.”

But signs the library is disappearing are already here.

School boards in Ontario have begun closing school libraries and generations of young Canadians will grow up never getting to know a teacher-librarian.

That’s not the case in the Yukon, said Ourom.

“We’re lucky here,” she said, adding that there are twice as many libraries in Yukon communities since she started working in Whitehorse in 1990.

And if you need even more proof, the Yukon government just entered into a partnership with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation to lease space for a brand new public library in Whitehorse.

It will cost the territory around $700,000 a year for the new space, and that’s after a $7.4-million investment in the overall building.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Ourom. “The library’s used and that’s how you justify it. We’re meeting a need in the community.”

In 2010-11, circulation was around 148,000 to 150,000 books. That’s at least 4,000 more than in 2009-10. And that’s only in Whitehorse.

The counter at the door of the Second Avenue location clocked between 210,000 to 235,000 visits in 2010-11, at least 5,000 more than in 2009-10.

“A library is a free, open, public space,” said Ourom. “Libraries will continue to exist. They are much more of a social meeting place now than just a place to come and get books.

“People use our meeting rooms, they bring their kids to programs, they come as adults to author readings and other programs that we do and, actually, I can see the need, in the future, even more for that as we turn into an ever-connected society.

“You gotta talk to somebody, you gotta get out of your house, if you’re going to be working from home, and see other people. And the library is one place you can do that.”

The new riverfront library will have two public meeting rooms, the same as the existing library, but the Kwanlin Dun cultural centre, which it is attached to, will have many more.

The partnership will also allow for new programming, said Ourom, mentioning how excited she is at all the possible opportunities.

“Libraries will always exist,” she said. “We’re changing, but that’s nothing new. We continue to adapt as times change, we’re quite different from what we were 20 years ago.”

When Ourom first came to Whitehorse, the library had just started putting its card catalogue on a computer; it didn’t have internet, and the room that the computers are now in was used for microfilms. Public typewriters came next, before they were replaced by the seven computers in there today.

There will be a much smaller resource section in the new library, said Ourom. Print resources, like encyclopedias for example, have been cut down to six sections in the current library, approximately 90 books. These are mostly phone books, dictionaries, catalogues and specialized research books, she said.

In the new library, that space will be cut in half.

“I can’t imagine more than three bookshelves,” said Ourom, sizing up the bookshelf in her own Second Avenue office.

Most of the library’s main collection will move to the new location, she said. That includes books for children and adults, magazines, DVDs, paperbacks, hardcovers, etc.

“We are still circulating those in physical formats in record numbers,” she said. “And we will still be doing that in the new library for the conceivable future.”

But those record numbers may go down with the library’s soon-to-launch ebook service, Ourom admits.

“(Ebooks) will be available through our library catalogue,” she said. “You then check out the item you’re interested in and you have it downloaded to your computer for the loan period and it disappears when the loan period’s up and someone else gets to read it or listen to it.”

Audio books will be available as well, she said.

Ourom hopes the new electronic service will be ready by July, but promises to have it up and running by the end of summer, at the very least.

The new facility will not have more computers because they are not needed, said Ourom.

The growing trend is people coming with their own laptops looking for a quiet, public space. The seven computers the library currently has appear to be enough for the population of lunchtime “pop-ins,” or tourists who tend to spend a small amount of time looking up a few things or checking their emails, she said.

The only real concern is the library’s internet access.

Currently, library users can only use one hour of Wi-Fi per day.

The library is hoping to offer more than that in the new space and is working with Northwestel to try and figure that out, she said.

The biggest difference between the old and new space, is the layout.

The new library will have ample seating areas, the stacks will remain along the walls for the most part, the computers will be decentralized, there will be a deck facing the river and many little reading spots near the windows that Ourom predicts they’ll have to start selling tickets for, she said laughing.

Most importantly, it will all be open concept - a request she placed at the very beginning.

“For us, it’s very important that it’s that open layout,” she said. “Because that gives you way more flexibility as time goes on. Maybe 20 years from now, things will have changed and we’ll be doing things in different ways. We keep evaluating based on demand.”

And right now, that demand still includes books.

“Most letters come in e-mail now, but you wouldn’t ignore a letter if it came in the mail,” she said. “We’re looking at it that way, that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at