Unlocking the Possibilities When Closing a Branch

Read our guest post from Coleen Lipp, CEO of Caledon Public Library, on thinking out of the box (or maybe in the box?) when faced with a branch closure.

What does a public library system do with a much-loved community branch when that love doesn’t translate into use? This is a question that the Caledon Public Library had been grappling with for some time.  Funnily enough, once we began thinking outside the box, we realized that a box – or a series of them really – was exactly the solution we needed..

Until just recently, the Caledon Public Library offered seven branch locations – many of them small spaces staffed by just one employee.  Serving a municipality that amalgamated back in 1974, most of these branches were inherited from the original villages and hamlets.  Our Belfountain Branch was shared with the local elementary school and as such, public were only allowed access after school hours and on weekends.  Efforts to close the branch more than a decade ago prompted a rallying cry from residents but resulted in no change to the status quo.

In a town that covers more than 700 square kilometers, we take great pride in the fact that you are never more than a 15 minute drive from a library branch but we were challenged by the need to provide consistent and efficient services at our smallest branch.  As of 2015, circulation accounted for less than 2% of all items borrowed across the system, programs were regularly cancelled due to lack of registrants and staffing costs of each transaction were double that of any other service point.  Something had to give.

In July 2015, the Library Board approved a pilot project to reduce the hours of operation from 19 hours per week to just 10 hours and supported staff’s recommendation that we begin investigating other means of delivering service to the hamlet. We also widely communicated news of the pilot and our reasoning for investigating new service options.

Enter the lockers.  We had first seen remote holds lockers in Niagara on the Lake, where they were successfully installed in a local fire hall.  For those unfamiliar with these units, NOTLPL and Bibliotheca created a brief video highlighting the technology – and the benefit to the community.  In Caledon’s case,  branch patrons visited most often to pick up holds – but rarely browsed the collection – so the lockers were well suited to the community’s needs.

More than a year after the initial report and resulting reduction in hours of operation, the Board approved staff’s recommendation to close the branch and supported a budget request to purchase remote holds lockers. Over the course of the year, we had also completed a comprehensive Service/Facility Review of all branches and the consultant-drafted Master Plan confirmed our assessment.

But where to house them?  In a community with only two stops signs, a general store, a coffee shop and a small inn, there weren’t many options. As luck would have it, a Town-owned community hall that had fallen into disrepair was being renovated.  As the original home to the community’s Mechanic’s Institute, the 1893 building offered not only a location to house the lockers, but a homecoming of sorts.  The Town was also rolling out key-pad access to remote facilities.  This would enable library members to access the lockers any time of day or night.  Emails notifying patrons of their holds include a key code that allows access to the secure space so that they can pick up or drop off their materials.

Nearly two years after the original recommendation was received by the Board, the Belfountain Branch closed its doors on May 30, 2017.  The lockers were installed in April, providing a nice transition period, and were officially launched with a ribbon cutting by the Mayor and Board Chair in July.

Remarkably, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Community members recognized that this solution offered improved access, allowing them to pick up or return items whenever it was convenient.  Our third-party courier was trained on how to load and empty the lockers and after a bit of initial hand-holding it seems to be going well. And from the perspective of the Board and Council, the lockers offer a much more efficient means of providing service to a small community than a traditional branch.

We had also reallocated staff hours from the closed branch to two nearby locations so access improved across the system and there was no negative impact to staff levels.  Patrons had become very fond of staff working at the Belfountain branch and were pleased to learn that they can still visit their favourite library staffers at nearby Alton or Caledon Village branches.

Of course, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  Notification of locker holds can only be sent via email and are not supported by our telephone notification system.  Branch staff worked with patrons to update their contact info and preferred method of notification in advance of the locker launch.  Unfortunately, there are still a handful of members who don’t have easy access to the Internet and email so can’t take advantage of this new service.

As is the case with any new technology, there’s a learning curve; one made much steeper by the remote location of the lockers in relation to our key public service and IT staff.   Luckily Caledon staff are used to travelling between branches and staff who live nearby have been very gracious when asked to stop by on their way home to confirm that a locker door is shut or implement some other quick fix.  That said, any down time has been minimal and vendor support has been impressive. Given the nature of the community served, we’ve taken a personal approach when communicating any technical issues.  Public service staff call any impacted patrons, advising them of any service interruptions that may impact their ability to retrieve their holds.  Admittedly, this wouldn’t be feasible for a higher traffic service point.

Are there any other areas in Caledon that would benefit from remote lockers?  You bet. From small rural communities not currently served by a branch to a quickly growing urban neighbourhood with a branch slated to open early in 2019, there are many possible applications. So, do we have plans to launch more lockers?  Not yet.   In the short term we’re committed to monitoring and assessing the Belfountain lockers before determining if and how to roll this service out elsewhere. It’s early days, but so far… so good.

MagnusCards: Guiding People to Independence at Libraries

Today’s guest post is by Nadia Hamilton, founder and president of Magnusmode –  a groundbreaking app designed to help those with cognitive needs find their own way in the world.    Learn more aboy how this app is used in libraries, and about the SOLS consortia purchasing discount for MagnusCards!


MagnusCards is a new app with the bold mission of making the world more accessible to people with cognitive special needs. Creating greater access to library services is an important piece of connecting, engaging, and enabling people within their communities.

With Digital Card Decks (each one a task or activity) designed specifically for each library, MagnusCards guides users to complete tasks like signing up for a library card, finding a book, and returning a book. These are activities that are often insurmountable challenges for visitors with cognitive special needs, and libraries are seeing incredible results by offering MagnusCards as a response to the needs of their diverse communities.

Stephen, 36, is one such example. Stephen regularly visited his library, the County of Brant Public Library, as an avid and curious reader.  But he was dependent on library staff to show him where everything was, and was often waiting alone while they served other visitors or completed their own tasks.

So, when the County of Brant Public Library launched their new Magnus Card Decks, Stephen was one of their first testers. He was guided through the simple interface by a familiar library staff member, and began to explore on his own.

A patron using Magnus code Image

The next day, Stephen returned to try something new…Guided by the steps, he signed up for HIS OWN library card (the first time he had ever done this independently), found a new book (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, of course!) and successfully checked it out for borrowing.

Patron finding a book in a shelf Image

For his parents, the library staff who knew him so well, and for Stephen himself, this was HUGE!  Stephen beamed, and flapped his hands excitedly, while the library staff looked proudly on, providing the resources for such a book-lover to find his own new book. His parents were thrilled that their son had independently completed one of his favourite tasks, and felt a rare feeling – confidence that he might be able to live more independently than they had ever thought.

MagnusCards offers Card Decks for over 300 daily tasks, from library services, to banking, to personal hygiene and fun, social activities.


SOLS HelpDesk – more than just interlibrary loan!

We’ve had a lot of staff changes here in the last few years at SOLS, and for some of you, that might mean a moment of hesitation when deciding who to call when you need assistance. And while many of you have had the pleasure of dealing with our HelpDesk staff for InterLibrary Loan and VDX questions, perhaps you didn’t know that they can also connect you with SOLS staff in other service areas?  For example:

  • Finding a consultant to help with issues related to the management and governance of public library service.  Specific consultants are also tasked with focusing on the Annual Survey/PLOG, Accreditation, Planning, E-resources/ebooks, and helping First Nation and Francophone Communities.  

  • Delivery related questions or all kinds

  • Purchasing Agreements and E-resources Purchasing questions

  • Training needs and suggestions for future training offerings

If you are having LearnHQ issues, we do have a separate email for that – support@learnhq.ca.  But our LearnHQ team are right here in the SOLS office, and are happy to help by phone too!

Our desk is staffed from 8:30 to 4:30, Monday to Friday, and can be reached at 1-800-387-5765.  Of course, if there is a topic on this list I haven’t covered, feel free to call anyway – chances are if we can’t help you, we can at least steer you in the right direction.




Announcing OLA Mentor Match 

The OLA Mentoring Committee is thrilled to announce the launch of a new matching tool for OLA members, OLA MentorMatch. The mentoring function is one component of LearnHQ, developed by SOLS as a joint project with OLS-North and OLA.  It is funded through a one-time $15.0 million grant from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Sport.   

What is it all about?  Among its standing committees, OLA’s Mentoring Committee organizes a range of programs and services to assist in career development across all library sectors.  This includes:

  • running the OLA Career Centre at Superconference at which resume critiquing and mock interviews are provided
  • working with schools such as Western and Durham College on interview skills
  • providing a mentor matching service through which mid and senior career library staff provide advice, guidance, and act as sounding boards for those newer to the field.

This matching process had been laboriously and lovingly managed by committee volunteers ‘by hand.’  So when it was introduced to the LearnHQ mentoring software, the committee hoped it had found its own perfect match.  Of course, nothing is perfect. Not to mention that any automated system can only do what humans tell it to do. The committee, with the guidance of Rosanne Renzetti from SOLS, invested time and energy into determining the matching protocols, so that the system could do what it was intended to.  We found that in the past, many decision had been made intuitively, which of course doesn’t work for software! 

Now the system is live and we are monitoring its workings, and most important, double-checking points at which human intervention is needed to ensure all is on track and that participants are provided with a rewarding experience.   But there is one critical element for success that the system and the committee cannot do.  We need more mentors!!! 

For more information, visit the OLA Mentoring website.

To create your profile, please visit LearnHQ and click on “MentorMatch

SOLS at OLA Superconference

SOLS staff are presenting (and being presented!) at a number of events at the OLA Superconference.  Please join us!





Trillium Policy Updates

Writing library policy can be a daunting task, and yet we know that it is work that should be done. With thoughtfully developed policies, the library board and staff have the framework for good governance. Policies provide direction for staff action and that framework helps to ensure consistency of all library operations.

Five years ago, SOLS staff were asked for a set of sample policies that could be used in public libraries. Consultants Gwen Wheeler and Claire-Marie Paquette rose to the challenge, creating the Trillium Public Library Policy Manual. It was such a hit that we have continued to build our collection of policies to include samples for those required by legislation in addition to those required by the Ontario Public Library Guidelines.

In August this year we updated policies related to workplace harassment to reflect the current Occupational Health and Safety Act. They now include the responsibilities of the library and guidelines for responding to complaints. These elements are now mandatory components of the policy. It might be the perfect time for a policy review, and you may find our sample policies and related notes helpful.

In September we focused on updating the wording of policies related to workplace accessibility. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act now requires everyone from volunteers to board members to be trained to provide accessible customer service. If your existing policies on accessible customer service mention training, make sure to review them, and update accordingly.

We know that policies are not the most riveting topic – but when required by provincial legislation, then you need to take note. We’re always available to answer questions about library policy, just send us an email or give us a call!

Technology Competencies, the 2016 ed.

One of my first jobs out of library school was as an online trainer in an onsite computer lab. Generally, my classes were pretty straightforward, teaching the same content but slightly adapted to beginner or advanced levels depending on my audience. But one day I walked into the lab and found someone who had clearly never used a mouse before. He decided the best approach was to repeatedly toss it into the air and see what happened next. 

I haven’t been at risk of being concussed by a flying mouse in a while, but I still see a wide range of computer skills and comfort levels among our library staff. The good news is, there are so many more options these days for learning those basic computer literacy skills. We here at SOLS are developing a two pronged approach to getting library staff up to speed on those basics!

  1. Competencies – We’ve recently revamped the Technology Competencies on the SOLS website to distinguish between “Basic Computer Literacy”, and more intermediate to advanced skills. The Basic Computer Literacy section outlines the technology core competencies that all staff need in order to contribute to the overall effectiveness of the library. It includes basic knowledge of:
    • hardware and peripherals
    • e-mail
    • calendar/task operations
    • operating system functions
    • the ability to use features common to all software (e.g. opening and closing documents, using menus, etc.)
    • beginner level proficiency with word processing, spreadsheets, mobile devices. (Yes, mobile is on the basic list!)
  2. In the next few months, we’ll be adding courses to LearnHQ that will help staff develop these Basic Computer Literacy competencies. These will be self-paced and self-directed, so you can work them into your busy schedule as you see fit.

If you or one of your fellow library staff need some help in this area, I’d encourage you to review the Technology Competencies section now, and identify the skills you’d like to develop. (If you want to take a step back and look at our overview on competencies based staff development, that’s good too). Then, as we announce the new course offerings, feel free to sign up! 

LearnHQ Launches April 1!

Resources on LearnHQ





LearnHQ, our single access point for training opportunities offered by SOLS, OLS-North, and OLA, will be “going live” on April 1. (Nope, that’s not an April fool’s joke. Hmm….might keep that excuse in my back pocket…)

But I kid! Things are right on track for our launch date. Still, those of us involved in the project are quite busy creating new homes for existing courses, migrating over professional information, and working out the technical kinks that inevitably show up when you try to search, sort, and organize large quantities of information and people.

What’s that?  You want to help out?  Aw shucks, thanks.  Here’s something you can do – prepare for April 1!

  1. Visit the site – It will be at www.learnhq.ca – although if you go there now, you’ll only find some placeholder text.  On April 1, we’ll send out an email with a reminder on how to find us. On that day, you’ll be able to browse a variety of learning opportunities (from SOLS and others), and register for them once you have logged in to the site.
  2. Log in –   Remember, LearnHQ is only for public library staff and trustees, so with that in mind, we’ve created a login and password for as many public library staff and board members as possible. Your login will be your email (most likely your work email) and your job will be to retrieve your password using the “Forgot password” option. There will also be options to sign up for a login and password if you don’t have one. Once again, step by step instructions will be available on the day of launch, and in our SOLS Spring Training bulletin. And support@learnhq.ca staff will be poised with fingers over the keyboard ready to help anyone who gets in a jam.
  3. Sign up – Different types of training will be rolled out throughout April.  On April 1, there will be opportunities to register for SOLS webinars and workshops, as well as recorded materials from OLS-North. Later in the spring, we will open registration for on online version of OLBA’s “Leadership by Design – Strengthening Public Library Board Performance”, developed by OLA and FOPL from CulturalDevelopment Fund Grant. And by the end of April, the EI training from OLA will also appear on the site.

I know you probably have more questions, but rest assured, we’ll have a “Getting Started” area on the site that will walk you through everything you need to know. In the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at rrenzetti@olservice.ca.

Introducing LearnHQ – Where Libraries and Learning Come Together

Happy New Year! Thought about your resolutions for 2015? Professional development is probably on your list in one way or another – in which case, our LearnHQ training portal may be just the thing to help you accomplish your goals.


LearnHQ will be a single access point for training opportunities offered by SOLS, OLS-North, and OLA, so that library staff can find the relevant training and resources they need from a variety of providers and organizations. We recognize that the training needs are diverse and also highly individual, and that professional development works best when it focuses on competencies– the skills, abilities and knowledge we need to make our work and our libraries successful. So as much as possible, LearnHQ will be designed with competencies in mind, allowing people to customize their learning to meet specific profession development goals.


But it can be hard to keep resolutions, right? (Yep, I see you gathering dust in the corner, treadmill). The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that by making your goals realistic, and working towards change in small, incremental steps, you can achieve them. Here are their five tips for making resolutions stick, revised with a LearnHQ angle!


Tip #1 – Start small 


Here’s an easy one – when LearnHQ goes live this spring, activate your account! We’ll high five you, virtually.


We’re starting small too. The “Phase 1” spring launch for Learn HQ will be low key, featuring a few familiar online courses (e.g. Compass, Learning 2.0), some pre-recorded webinars, and a revamped professional information section


But we do have exciting plans to grow the portal in future phases. We’ll be in touch with organizations across Ontario, Canada, and even internationally to try and expand the courses you can discover via LearnHQ. LearnHQ will also allow individual libraries to post and share their training. We’ll help libraries adapt their training to an online environment with instructional design guidelines, and staff will provide technical support in migrating your content to LearnHQ.


Tip #2 – Change one behavior at a time 


According to the APA, replacing unhealthy behaviours with healthy ones takes time. Similarly, leaning a new skill or embracing new ideas doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. In the next phase of development, we’ll be implementing a feature on LearnHQ called the “Learning Plan” that will help you map out your training needs now and in the future. It willallow you to track courses you have already taken, and use competencies to find and plan professional development opportunities. 


Tip #3 – Talk about your goals


Our courses will have discussion groups, and eventually, this will expand to include discussion areas on broad topics related to professional development.  In the meantime, maybe you want to share your 2015 training goals with us in the comments below? 


Tip #4 – Don’t beat yourself up 


The APA article cheerfully notes, “Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.”  With that in mind, remember that it’s ok if you set a training goal and don’t achieve some or all of it. The important thing is to keep trying. We hope that LearnHQ can make this easier for you, by expanding our offerings of recorded webinars and “self-guided” courses, so you have greater flexibility to learn at your own pace.


Tip #5 – Ask for support 


Another great feature we will implement in a future phase of LearnHQ is Mentor Match, which will allow you to find a mentor or expert in an Ontario public library, or volunteer to be one!  In the meantime, there will online support resources and reassuring staff to help you get started on your learning journey.


Looking for more encouragement?  If you are attending the OLA Super Conference, come see our presentation and our poster session.  We’ll also post important project updates in SIGNAL. In the interim, if you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas, please contact me at any time.  In meantime, I’m off to read my book on staff motivation (professional goal#1) on the stationary bike (personal goal #3,452).