Leaders at the Milton Public Library (MPL) in Canada say they are continually questioning their operations and looking for ways to better serve their patrons. That’s why the Ontario institution joined the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program.
“We are always keen to innovate, in meaningful ways” said Mark Williams, MPL chief executive officer and chief librarian. “Why would we not want to be in this partnership that expands our collection, but also extends assets to other people’s collections in a digital realm? It was a no brainer.”
In making its decision to become part of Open Libraries in September 2019, Williams said rather than being concerned about publishers, the focus was on the interests of the public.
“If it challenges the status quo for the benefit of readers, wherever those readers are, then I think we should engage,” Williams said.
As it happens, the timing of its membership was fortuitous. With COVID-19 disrupting access to the print collection at its branches, being part of the Open Libraries meant broader access to digital materials for patrons quarantined at home.
MPL has been a central part of the Milton, Ontario, community since 1855, serving a population of more than 120,000 through three physical libraries and its website (and with a bookmobile and four new branches in the pipelines over the course of the next 10 years), Library services were forced to be flexible in the past year as health circumstances changed in the province.
The three MPL locations closed on March 17, 2020, under a state of emergency in Ontario. By May, a phased reopening allowed libraries to begin limited operations. During the state of emergency, librarians pivoted to providing access to services only through virtual interactions and the website was changed to focus on promoting electronic resources. As restrictions eased, MPL provided curbside, contactless pickup. Eventually, 50 to 100 patrons were allowed inside the buildings with safety protocols. The libraries had to close again when COVID-19 cases spiked in the winter, and then reopened in February.
“The staff have been remarkably agile and good at adapting their approach,” Williams said. “We’ve done the best we possibly could to ensure the public library services continued, but the way we deliver it is different than anyone would have expected.”
In addition to joining Open Libraries, MPL donated 30,000 books to the Internet Archive. Williams said the expanded access to content in the larger online library has been a boon to the public. Regardless of the pandemic, MPL would have spread the word about access to Open Libraries, he said, but it was likely accelerated because there was no choice but to focus on digital offerings in the pandemic.
“The lockdown highlighted the ability for us to raise awareness about the partnership and introduce it to more patrons,” Williams said. MPL is creating a new portal on its website that will be dedicated to Open Libraries but has been promoting its availability in the meantime and the response has been positive.
“We’ve seen overwhelming demand,” Williams said. “Patrons think it’s a fantastic option for them to have increased materials than we currently have available.”
The transition to becoming part of the Open Libraries program was seamless, said Williams, and he’s encouraging other libraries to consider joining.
“I hope if other libraries sign up, they will be equally inspired by the partnership. The content is amazing,” Williams said. “Our patrons think it’s phenomenal. Our board thinks it’s a great idea, philosophically. Everyone believes this is an important service addition.”
To browse the books now available for lending through Milton Public Library’s participation in the Open Libraries program, please visit: https://archive.org/details/miltonpubliclibrary-ol. Learn how your library can participate in the Open Libraries program.