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Library co-operative brings home provincial award

Simcoe County Libraries Immigrant Hub project wins accolades for innovation at the 2018 Ontario Public Library Service Awards

New and innovative ideas can be born of old institutions.

The Simcoe County Library Co-operative recently received the Minister's Award for Innovation at the 2018 Ontario Public Library Service Awards in the large library category for the Simcoe County Libraries Immigrant Hub project.

“We were up against groups like Ottawa and other very large libraries,” says Gayle Hall, chief librarian and CEO of the Simcoe County Library Co-operative.

When Hall heard Simcoe County’s name called at the annual gala at the end of January, she says she felt grateful.

“It was very exciting,” she says. “It’s very gratifying. We put a lot of work into it, and a couple of years of effort. It’s nice to be appreciated, and the services are good.”

The Minister's Award for Innovation recognizes successful new approaches that demonstrate a positive impact in a community and are of continued value to public libraries.

The Simcoe County Libraries Immigrant Hub project was started in 2016 when Hall applied for a grant through the provincial government.

“It started as a project to bring resources and programs to newcomers to Simcoe County,” says Hall. “What we had discovered was there were a lot of newcomers moving in to Simcoe County, but there wasn’t a lot of places they could go to get information or get support.”

At the time, there were only two places in the county where new immigrants could access official settlement services: in Barrie and Bradford West Gwillimbury.

“There weren’t any services in say, Collingwood or up north in Penetang. Libraries are located in virtually every part of the county, so we thought we could bring some of the services that newcomers needed into the libraries,” says Hall.

Hall says the project started small with a budget of about $200,000. Half of the budget went toward hiring a project co-ordinator, and the other half went toward purchasing multilingual materials including books, e-books and DVDs and starting cultural competency training for all staff.

Now, the materials span 14 different languages and the collection continues to grow.

“It’s been really successful. We started small. We had to grow it,” says Hall, adding that circulation statistics have shown the material is used regularly and increases year over year as residents become more aware of the services.

Although Barrie and Orillia are not a part of the library co-operative as they are separated cities, they opted to come on board as well to be a part of the immigrant hub project to share resources.

The intention of the program is to reduce immigrant isolation and increase inclusivity, acceptance and understanding of immigrants in local communities.

The Simcoe County Library Co-operative is a consortium of 14 public libraries (29 branches) across Simcoe County who share services, resources and funds. The co-operative originally formed in March of 1940. In 1960, new legislation provided for the formation of county public libraries in place of the co-operatives.

Simcoe County was, and remains, the last co-operative in the province.

“Under the co-operative (structure), every library has its own library board. So, they’re each their own separate entity. People wanted their own autonomy,” says Hall.

“Collectively, we also have larger buying power for things like e-books and electronic databases. There’s more money to pool.”

“You get a bigger bang for your buck,” says Hall with a laugh.

Going forward, Hall says the co-operative is continuing to develop and expand the multilingual collection as well as continue cultural competency training with staff members.

This past year, the co-operative applied for and received a federal grant for a program that pairs newcomers with senior citizens to start a conversation. The new program is called SPICE (Seniors Partnering with Immigrants in Conversation Exchanges).

For more information on the Simcoe County Library Co-operative, click here.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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