TRURO, NS – Patrons of eight regional libraries are gaining access to over a million items in 60 branches across the province – almost a tenfold increase – thanks to a new unified library catalog and card breaking down barriers.
Soon, patrons will have just one Same Page card that can be used at any regional library. It’s a welcome response to a growing demand for people with various residences or who often travel, evidenced by patron feedback in 2018 during a feasibility study.
“(Patrons) were really frustrated that their experience was so different between each region, and there were all these extra barriers they had to circumvent to get material from other regions,” said Colchester-East Hants Public Library CEO Tiffany Bartlett.
All regional libraries (outside of Halifax) are unifying in their circulation and borrowing policies, eliminating confusion. An unlimited number of items can be borrowed and almost everything will be on a three-week loan period. The system will also automatically renew items up to three times, as long as there are no holds.
Inter-library loans already offer province-wide access, but the system will simplify the process drastically, saving behind-the-scenes backend processes between catalogs.
“It really takes down those (institutional) barriers, really makes it easy for users to request materials from everywhere, to make the experience a lot better,” said Eric Stackhouse, chief librarian of the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library and Same Page chair.
“Same Page” was a name chosen by staff, resonating with their mission.
“A lot of the changes that we’ve made to our circulation policies, those have been sources of friction and customer interaction,” said Bartlett. “So (staff) are really excited because they think it’s really going to improve our patrons’ experience.”
During the pandemic’s onset, libraries removed overdue fines. The borrow anywhere, return anywhere policy continues, as well as the mailing of library items via Canada Post between regions on federal subsidies and internal delivery methods.
Librarians are ecstatic to be moving from VuFind, open-source software used for over a decade now, to BiblioCommons, a powerful software system currently used by Halifax Public Libraries. The search engine makes titles easier to find with user-friendly smart features similar to Google. It also offers opportunities for people to share ratings, comments, staff recommendations and reading lists with personalized profiles.
In 2018, Same Page (then One Card Alliance) was formed, born out of a long-standing collaboration between regional libraries and a desired joint ownership. Now an incorporated society, it has a representative from each region and the provincial library.
The consortium echoes a similar model in Saskatchewan. But Stackhouse said their co-operative spirit goes back as far as “people’s libraries” in the 1930s, leading to regionalization.
“I think the real degree of co-operation amongst the regional libraries is unique to Nova Scotia,” said Stackhouse. “It was realized quickly in Nova Scotia, due to the real rural nature of the province, that to really get the best, we had to co-operate and we had to work together.”
“Everyone from the library boards, right down to the branch level, everybody had a hand in this… we could not have done it without all the co-operation.”
The project was possible due to a $ 500,000 provincial investment. Regional libraries will pick up the ongoing cost in return for a “much better product for our users.”
“The province recognizes the important role that library plays in enhancing quality of life, supporting our local economies, creating more equitable Nova Scotia, and supporting the overall health and well-being of individuals and communities,” said Dyan Bader, manager of systems and collections access for Nova Scotia Provincial Library. “And investing in Same Page marks an important step in improving access.”
Nova Scotia Public Library has been providing regional libraries IT system administration support for two decades.
“There’s been an amazing amount of co-operation and discussion,” said Bader, who acted as a project manager in various capacities. “Really, everyone just is looking forward to working together and providing them with solutions with the best service that we can… we are very much happy to help them along to get where they want to go. But really, this is their baby. ”
Bartlett said that the COVID pandemic “miraculously” did not have much impact on development, thanks to the dedication of invested staff.
“I think it’s been really rewarding,” Bartlett said. “It’s been a lot of work. Nova Scotia public libraries, we’ve always had a strong partnership, but collaboration at this level is really unprecedented. ”
And Stackhouse adds that there is more to follow, including an automatic text service offering reminders to patrons.
The Same Page website launched on March 31. Cards will start being handed out on April 21 as patrons visit.
Participating regional libraries:
- Annapolis Valley Regional Library
- Cape Breton Regional Library
- Colchester-East Hants Public Library
- Cumberland Public Libraries
- Eastern Counties Regional Library
- Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library
- South Shore Public Libraries
- Western Counties Regional Library