Libraries offer more than just books these days, especially in small towns.
Serving a population of about 2,000 people, the Tumbler Ridge Public Library acts like a community hub, offering activities and digital reference assistance for patrons.
Head Librarian Paula Coutts has worked there for twelve years.
“I’m from Ontario originally and have worked at libraries across the country for about 40 years. I came to Tumbler Ridge in 2010 for what I thought would be a three-year adventure, and I’m still here, and I love it. It’s a small community, but it’s exactly my kind of library,” she explains.
The Tumbler Ridge Public Library lends books, DVDs, e-books, magazines, and Wi-Fi hubs to residents, but it’s their knowledge and resources that have made them the go-to place when, particularly when the mines closed in 2014 and hundreds of people lost their jobs.
“The library saw an influx of miners coming in who were looking to apply for jobs at big corporations. They had to apply online, and we realized that because they entered the workforce after Grade 9 or 10, they needed some help with their applications. We started helping with résumés because we were the only ones around who could help. We still offer this service, as well as photocopying, scanning, and e-mailing,” says Paula.
As Tumbler Ridge embraces other industries like tourism and recreation, Paula says that residents have continued to visit the library for a variety of reasons.
“They embrace the library because our town is very small and we don’t have a lot of other things to do. We were the go-to place for COVID-19 vaccination cards, and our staff were trained to help people access and print their documents,” she says.
Even before the pandemic, she says technology has always been a big thing that people need help with.
“It’s really just guiding them through software. Helping them set the ringer on their phone, connecting to the Wi-Fi—probably about a third of our work is helping people connect with the government online or helping them make their technology work for them. It’s just 21st-century reference questions as opposed to the reference questions we got 20 years ago,” she explains.
A Dedicated Team
Located in the town’s community centre, the library has 12 staff and at its peak, saw about 200 visitors every day.
“I’m so proud of the staff here. They’re very dedicated, especially when it comes to helping people. They go above and beyond, and they’ve worked really hard,” Paula says.
A lot of that hard work goes into their annual Summer Reading Club, which was held virtually in 2020 and involved staff reading to children online and delivering 5,200 craft kits to 120 kids throughout the summer. Even with a recent budget cut, they were still able to deliver the program in 2021.
“Thanks to a donation from Meikle Wind and Pattern Canada, we were able to buy books for the Summer Reading Club. I wouldn’t have been able to buy them last year without this donation,” she explains.
They’re hoping to run the Summer Reading Club again this year, and they’re willing and flexible to do half in person and half virtually, depending on any restrictions that may be in place at the time.
A Source of Pride
“We’re really proud of our book collection. We are a ‘net lender’ in the interlibrary loan world. This means that we loan more items to other libraries than we borrow from them. People are often surprised that we have a book that they just heard about on the radio or online,” says Paula.
Books and information are still at the core of the work that the Tumbler Ridge Public Library does, and Paula says you’d be surprised to know that not a lot has changed in 40 years.
“I think technology is the biggest change I’ve seen over the years, but in terms of what we do and how we help – I don’t think we’re doing a whole lot different from what I saw libraries doing back when I was a teenager. We’ve always been a social space. It’s a way for people, students, and teachers to connect with each other,” she says.