As part of the Airdrie City View's monthly Qs with the View interview series, we recently sat down with Pamela Medland, Airdrie Public Library's (APL) director.
We asked Medland about her career in public libraries and the City of Airdrie's ongoing project to relocate APL to a larger facility at the old firehall on Main Street. Medland also talked about what brought her to Airdrie and what her role as the library's administrative lead entails.
Here is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
City View: What does your role as APL's director entail?
Medland: I report to a library board, which is appointed by City council. The library board has independent governance status, so although they are a board of council, they don't report directly to council. Under the Libraries Act, they operate independently. They hire one professional librarian – myself – who they delegate all operational issues to. Staffing is a big part of my job and I'm responsible for overseeing all the staff in the library.
The board has fiscal responsibility, but I oversee the day-to-day finances of the library and do monthly reporting to the board. I play a role in the library's advocacy in the community, trying to ensure that citizens of Airdrie know who we are and what we do. I work with my team of staff and go out into the community to share our message and generate excitement about the library's services."
City View: How did you get into the library industry?
Medland: I am a librarian and the role requires a Master of Library degree. I've been in public libraries for about 33 years, so most of my career. I started in special libraries as the librarian for Maclean's magazine, in the news library world. I quickly decided that special libraries really weren't for me, because in a special library, you're peripheral to the main purpose of the organization, whereas in a public library, you're very central – we're about library services, and that's our business.
Libraries are also pretty central in a community. Most communities in Canada have a public library and it has a very important role, to bring information and recreation and imagination and discovery – all those wonderful opportunities you get at a public library. I love that and have never looked back after discovering public libraries.
City View: How did you arrive at APL?
Medland: I've held roles across the country. My first public library was Hamilton Public Library. Although I'm originally from B.C., I graduated from the University of Toronto's library school, so naturally I became aware of local opportunities and started in public libraries there.
I then moved to Kitimat, B.C., where I was the chief librarian. That really was a move in order to begin my career as a library manager. I ran that library and then I had a couple of positions in B.C., on Vancouver Island with Vancouver Island Regional Library. For quite a long time, I was with the Okanagan regional library, on the senior management team as the public service manager. There, I had a lot of experience in building libraries and renovating them. I had a brief stint at Calgary Public Library, but when this opportunity became available, knowing they were doing a business case for a building project, that was of great interest to me. The board also was interested in my building project and renovation experience.
I started with APL in 2015. I came to Alberta in 2013, largely because both of my kids were at the University of Calgary and I was ready for a change.
City View: So, Airdrie's new library was already in discussion when you arrived, and that was a catalyst for you?
Medland: Well, it's taken a long time to get to this stage with the building project now. The Airdrie Public Library board did a feasibility needs study in 2013, with the report published in 2014. That involved a lot of public consultation and discussion with council. That was really the first big push – the library board already knew in 2012, when they were preparing to undertake this study, that a new facility was required.
It just takes a long time. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that have to line up before a new building project like this really goes ahead. But here in Airdrie, because the community has grown so quickly and so much, we've been undersized for a very long time. We're about a fourth or a fifth of the size that we should be, and that's been the case for years. When they hired me in 2015, at that time, I was thinking we'd open a facility in 2017 or 2018, and now our timeline with the new project is 2025.
There has been a budget in place and money put aside for this project for quite a few years, and it has been a strategic priority for City council for quite a few years.
City View: What have you liked or noticed about Airdrie and APL in these last six years?
Medland: One fun thing about working at APL is that we have a set of organizational values. Two of those values make it really great to be their library director. One is excellence and another is innovation. We're always trying out new things. We take those values seriously, and I encourage my staff to be innovative and try out new things, and they do. I have a great staff. We're an award-winning library and have been for a long time, prior to my joining the organization.
That's great, because I never feel like I'm in a backwater. We're always doing innovative projects, we were the first library of our size to have smart lockers. That was an award-winning program for us, and we won awards for our Traveling Tales and Tunes, where we partnered with Community Links and took story time out to local schools. We were the first public library in Alberta to do a sensory story time for children on the autism spectrum, so we're always trying out new things.
City View: And what about the city as a whole?
Medland: I've noticed the growth, as anybody who lives or works in Airdrie understands. It is a community where there is still a sense of the values of a small community, and that's kind of married with excitement about growth. There are many challenges when you grow that fast. It's difficult for infrastructure to keep up, but people think big and we'll eventually get there.
City View: Now that you're able to be open, what has that been like, and what can people expect when they come here?
Medland: We have almost all of our services active and available, as of [June 10], which was the start of Stage 2 in Alberta. The one thing we haven't yet implemented yet is in-person programming, which is a very big part of our service delivery.
When we closed down last March, we moved quickly to digital and virtual programming through our website. By April, we had a large suite of virtual programs delivered and they were very well received by the community. The adult programming, not so much, but children, school and preschool programming were really embraced by the community. We find the numbers are still pretty good for preschool and school-aged kids but people are pretty Zoomed out and they're tired of being on-screen. I know our programmers and the public are itching to get back to in-person programming.