Edmonton Public Library (EPL) continues to write the book on innovation

Back in February I had the opportunity to attend a Lunch & Learn event at the Edmonton Public Library. I joined nearly two dozen Edmontonians at the Stanley Milner library downtown to find out more about EPL and what they have been working on. Pilar Martinez, EPL’s Deputy CEO and Tina Thomas, Director of Marketing & Fund Development at EPL, led us through a brief presentation about EPL’s history and then told us more about two key initiatives they are raising money for. We finished with a tour of the Makerspace.

Normally I’d start with a photo of the library, but instead I want to share this colorful application of EPL’s Spread the words brand.

EPL Parkade
EPL Parkade by Ian McKenzie

I’m a regular user of the library so I feel like I know it well. But I still learned quite a bit during the lunchtime session! “Our history is all about innovation,” Pilar told us. To gain a better understanding of that history, we watched this video which was made to celebrate EPL being named Library of the Year in 2014:

Being named “Library of the Year” is the equivalent of winning the Stanley Cup in the world of libraries. EPL is the first ever Canadian library to receive the accolade.


The library is about more than books. It has been for a long time.

If you take a look at the EPL website today you’ll find the Digital Content tab. That’s your gateway to a whole other world of resources, including e-books, audiobooks, magazines, databases, open data, online learning, and more. In fact, EPL says they offer more than 5 million digital resources.

Here are some of the ones I use most frequently:

I’m continually amazed that I can access these resources for free using my computer without ever having to step into a branch. And I’m barely scratching the surface of what’s available!


The other non-book resource that I use all the time is the Makerspace, especially now that it features two recording booths. You won’t find any books in the Makerspace, unless of course you print one using the Espresso Book Machine! It’s a place for technology, exploration, and fun. Graham and I meet there every week to record Mack & Cheese and we always find it busy and full of activity.

On the tour we learned about the space from Peter Schoenberg, EPL’s Manager of Digital Literacy and Web Services. He explained that the Makerspace offers tools and resources to help people learn about things like 3D printing, graphic design, and more. And while you could in theory use the resources there to start a business, you’d quickly outgrow the space (and EPL is happy to help you get to that point).

Inside you’ll find computers and workstations in an open concept. The space works well for hackathons! You’ll also find the aforementioned Espresso Book Machine and a green wall for photography and video work:

EPL Makerspace

There are three 3D printers (they had to add another recently to keep up with demand):

EPL Makerspace

There are a couple of gaming spaces with Xboxes and these incredible overhead cone speakers that keep the sound minimized to the local area:

EPL Makerspace

And there are two sound-proof recording booths with computers, mics, mixers, amps, and instruments:

EPL Makerspace

The Makerspace is an incredible resource and if you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan. Check it out if you haven’t already done so! You can request a tour here.

Welcome Baby

One of the programs I didn’t know about before the luncheon was Welcome Baby, a program that puts books and early literacy resources in the hands of newborns and their parents. “A library card, books and story times are the first steps to a love of reading and success later in life.”

Through a partnership with AHS, the program is being brought to parents when they visit a clinic for their child’s two month immunizations. Babies also receive a library card, free of course. “Early literacy is the foundation and EPL is focused on it,” Pilar told us.

Each Welcome Baby Early Literacy Kit costs $25 and EPL is hoping to raise $1.5 million total. You can donate to Welcome Baby here.


The other program we learned a lot about was epl2go, a new literacy van initiative. Before I spoil it, watch this entertaining promotional video:

The idea is actually an old one (EPL used to have book mobiles that would travel to different neighbourhoods). epl2go vans will bring programs and services from the library to Edmontonians who don’t have easy access to an existing branch. In today’s parlance, we might describe epl2go as a pop-up library!

EPL is looking to raise $1 million to have four epl2go vans – one for each quadrant of the city. You can donate to epl2go here.

Facelift and more for Stanley Milner downtown

Let’s face it, the Stanley Milner library downtown isn’t incredibly attractive. It certainly doesn’t fit with the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Winspear Centre, City Hall, and it’ll look even more out of place when the LRT starts running past the front door. It’s also not super functional, with poor connections to Churchill Station and an insanely congested sidewalk/bus stop out front. We’ve been talking about this for years in Edmonton, with ideas for renovations and updates frequently being proposed (here’s one from 2010 for instance).

Edmonton Downtown Library
Edmonton Downtown Library by IQRemix

The good news is that the building is going to be renewed thanks to Council’s decision to fund the $61.5 million project last December. The City is providing $51.5 million of that while EPL will need to fundraise the remaining $10 million. The goal is to open the doors of the new facility in late fall of 2018 so they’ll have to move quickly. EPL hasn’t yet figured out what the donation campaign will look like, but they’re working on it.

We’ll have to wait until the full plan for the building renewal is revealed to know everything that’s going to change, but we do know that internal systems will be upgraded so the library can achieve a LEED silver designation at minimum. We also learned at the luncheon that EPL intends to use the opportunity to greatly improve the utility of the interior of the building too, with lots of work spaces, meeting rooms, and other community facilities. And yes, the Makerspace will also receive upgrades and additions, like potentially a kitchen space.

Connect with the library

Check out @EPLdotCA on Twitter, edmontonpl on YouTube, and EPLdotCA on Facebook. If you don’t already have your free library card, you can learn how to get one here.

In Edmonton, make it iconic

The Edmonton Public Library released a drawing today of the planned facelift for downtown’s Stanley A. Milner library. Pending funding from City Council this fall, Toronto’s Teeple Architects and Edmonton’s Architecture ATB would tackle the project. The total cost of the renovation is estimated to be $56 million.

new stanley milner library design

That figure includes asbestos removal and mechanical and electrical system upgrades, but it also means an attractive building, better suited to living alongside the other modern-looking buildings around Churchill Square.

“We really want it to be iconic,” said EPL CEO Linda Cook.

That word is what many people fixated on today. Iconic.



That got me thinking, are we overusing the word iconic in Edmonton?

To find out, I decided to look at the frequency of the word iconic in Edmonton Journal articles over the last couple of decades. As a comparison, I looked up the same data for The Globe and Mail. Hardly scientific, but good enough. Here’s what it looks like:

As you can see, the word wasn’t used very frequently before the turn of the millennium, after which it trends up. But what’s interesting is that it went up for both articles in the Journal and articles in Globe. So that suggests to me it’s not Edmonton-specific.

What about “iconic design” or “iconic building”? Here’s what that data looks like:

Again, an increase after 2000, but more in the Globe actually. For kicks, I also tried “world class”, that other favorite phrase for describing new projects in Edmonton!

I was surprised to see that usage of that phrase is much more consistent and while it has gone up, it hasn’t gone up dramatically.

Finally, here’s a look at the Google Trend data for “iconic” and “world class” in Canada:

A pretty similar story.

I like the idea of a refresh for the Stanley Milner library. Should we pay $56 million to make sure it’s “iconic”? I’m not sure. But it’s worth debating alongside all of the other capital requests.

For another take on the whole Big-Shiny-Thing-itis, check out this post from David Staples.

Putting incidents at the Stanley Milner library into perspective

The Stanley Milner Library was in the news a lot last week thanks to a few violent incidents that happened outside the main entrance. Mayor Mandel suggested moving the entrance to the back, away from Churchill Square, an idea that EPL CEO Linda Cook doesn’t agree with (more on this from Colby). I don’t either. I’d much rather see the sidewalk widened, and perhaps the bus stop moved.

Then I got to thinking – maybe we’re making a big deal out of nothing.

This is based on data from the Edmonton Sun (and I used IBM’s Many Eyes to get the proportions right). There were 1.4 million visits and just 728 incidents in 2009. Incidents here include everything from “noisy patrons to public intoxication”. How many violent crimes are there? I’m guessing a lot less.

I’m not trying to downplay the violent crimes that have occurred, but if so many people use the library without incident maybe the entrance isn’t the issue.

Edmonton Public Library’s MP3 Experiment

More than 250 Edmontonians gathered tonight in Churchill Square to take part in the Edmonton Public Library’s MP3 Experiment. The shared experience was a great way to help launch the new brand:

Ever heard of an MP3 Experiment? Think of it as a giant, updated version of the game "Simon Says" …all you need to participate is an MP3 player (iPod, etc.) and headphones. Here’s how it works: anyone visiting spreadthewords.ca can download an MP3 file onto their portable MP3 player. On the day of the experiment (without listening to the MP3 file ahead of time), participants gather at a prescribed public location and at a pre-determined time all push play. Hilarity ensues as participants carry out ridiculous, coordinated instructions delivered to their headphones via an omnipotent narrator and everyone else tries to figure out what the heck is going on.

EPL MP3 ExperimentEPL MP3 Experiment

It was actually lots of fun – I’m glad I was able to participate! I really love that EPL incorporated some learning into the experiment too, talking about some of the buildings around the square, our sister cities, and more. Here’s the video:

You can see more photos from the evening here. Stay tuned to epl.ca and @EPLdotCA for updates on the Spread the words campaign.

Edmonton Public Library: Spread the words.

Today the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) introduced its new brand, which includes a new logo, brand promise, and shared values. The rebranding is the result of more than six months of work, which included research, design, and some deep thought about what EPL is all about.

Why rebrand?

After a series of personnel changes throughout 2009, EPL found itself with a brand new communications team, led by Tina Thomas. Drawing on her experience in the private sector at companies like Nortel, Tina started to examine EPL’s branding. What she found was that although usage statistics were good, EPL wasn’t growing its user base, and it was stuck with the common misconception that books were the only offering. And although the different branches were nicely integrated behind the scenes, Tina and her team found that many people didn’t realize they were part of the same library.

The rebranding aims to increase EPL’s appeal, recognition, and profile in the community. It’s a single, consistent, and unifying brand identity.

Where to begin?

One of the most important steps in the rebranding process was the creation of a Shared Values Wheel. The core value, passionate about sharing, is in the centre of the wheel, and it is encircled by two rings with the rest of EPL’s values, like ideas champion, open, human, and unrivaled value. Tina told me that once they had figured out the wheel, everything else seemed to come together quite nicely.

The new brand!

Through research, EPL found that many people considered the old logo to be cold, boring, forgettable, and similar to clip art. The new logo better reflects the idea that EPL is about more than just books – “five simple bars can mean a great deal.” It’s modern, fun, and can be transformed in a variety of ways (as you’ll see below). I really like that it moves away from the very obvious book.

The brand promise, spread the words, embodies EPL’s values, which are centered around sharing; not just books, but also music, DVDs, ideas, etc.

EPL provides an exceptional service to Edmonton. It’s worth talking about and sharing. Spread the words is a call to action to this.

Starting tomorrow, you’ll see the new logo and branding everywhere. Sixty-five buses around the city will carry the new ads, and there will be a series of creative TV spots too. Even the library cards themselves will reflect the new branding, and there’s of course reusable tote bags, mugs, and all the usual things you’d expect. Here’s one of the commercials:

Perhaps the most important update will be to the website. In early May, it’ll be updated not only with the new branding, but with a modern look and dramatically improved navigation and layout. Built using Drupal, the new website will enable better integration with the EPL catalogue in the future. EPL worked with Donovan Creative on the rebranding (see their press release here).

Physical signage at the Stanley Milner library downtown will be changed right away. The rest of the branches will be changed as upgrades are required over time.

Launch events!

EPL is launching the new brand with, appropriately, a shared experience. Tomorrow at 6:30pm in Churchill Square, you’re invited to take part in the MP3 Experiment (on ShareEdmonton):

Ever heard of an MP3 Experiment? Think of it as a giant, updated version of the game "Simon Says" …all you need to participate is an MP3 player (iPod, etc.) and headphones. Here’s how it works: anyone visiting spreadthewords.ca can download an MP3 file onto their portable MP3 player. On the day of the experiment (without listening to the MP3 file ahead of time), participants gather at a prescribed public location and at a pre-determined time all push play. Hilarity ensues as participants carry out ridiculous, coordinated instructions delivered to their headphones via an omnipotent narrator and everyone else tries to figure out what the heck is going on.

It’s going to be a lot of fun! Head over to the website, download the MP3, and follow the instructions on the right side.

After the MP3 experiment, EPL is showing an audience participation version of The Princess Bride at the Stanley Milner library (on ShareEdmonton). The show starts at 7:45pm, and participants are encouraged to bring noisemakers, blowing bubbles, and bells, among other things!

There’s much more planned for the weeks ahead as well, including a membership drive and sticker campaign. Stay tuned to @EPLdotCA on Twitter for updates. And don’t miss Brittney’s excellent post on the Spread the Words campaign!

Congratulations to EPL on the new brand!


What’s happening at your local library?

Ever wonder what’s happening at your local Edmonton Public Library branch? Today, finding out becomes easier than ever! I’m excited to announce that ShareEdmonton now contains all EPL events, with new events being continuously added. The events will show up in all the usual spots, but there are a few sections of the website I wanted to highlight:

The EPL has had event listings on its website for a long time now, and while they are quite detailed, they aren’t necessarily the easiest to find or browse. The ability to subscribe to events is also somewhat limited – you can choose the next 2 weeks of all EPL events via RSS, or events at your branch via email. Still, the EPL is ahead of most organizations in that they’ve been able to aggregate all events into a single place.

Shortly after ShareEdmonton launched, Peter Schoenberg, Director of eServices at EPL, got in touch with me to see if we could work together. I explained the idea behind ShareEdmonton, and he outlined some of the digital initiatives the EPL is undertaking. We identified a couple of actions. The first was for EPL to get started with Open Data, by releasing a data file of library locations. The second was for ShareEdmonton to import those locations and all the events taking place at them.

Importing events required a little bit of custom work on both ends – thanks to Peter and his team for working so efficiently and for their patience! Having the EPL events in ShareEdmonton helps us both. For the EPL, it helps users find out about their local libraries, and exposes EPL events to a different and potentially wider audience. It also makes it possible for users to subscribe to events in Outlook, Google Calendar, or any other calendar application supporting iCal. For ShareEdmonton, it’s another important step toward becoming Edmonton’s de facto calendar.

Check out the EPL branches and events on ShareEdmonton!

Wireless Internet at the Edmonton Public Library

edmonton public libraryI’m not entirely sure what a “library of the future” might look like, but I’m certain it would have readily available wireless Internet access. Actually that idea isn’t very futuristic at all – many libraries now offer free Wi-Fi service to patrons, such as the Edmonton Public Library (EPL).

Launched in early February, the EPL’s wireless Internet service is available at almost every library branch in the city (Lessard and the temporary Idylwylde location being the only two exceptions). In its first five months of operation, the service has seen nearly 7500 sessions with an average of 450 sessions per week in June. Via email I was able to find out some additional details about the service from Lachlan Bickley, Acting Director of EPL’s eServices.

Like the Next Gen wireless service, the EPL’s wireless runs atop existing infrastructure. Wireless network traffic runs over an IPSec/GRE tunnel and eventually makes its way onto the Alberta SuperNet. The service is currently limited to 250 users per branch, and each user is restricted to 500 KB/s of throughput. Web content itself is not filtered, but only the HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP protocols are allowed. The EPL chose Aruba Networks to provide the equipment for the service. They are capable of supporting 256 access points in total, or 128 redundant access points. The EPL is currently using 52 and expect to add an additional 30 over the next few weeks. They constantly monitor the network and will make adjustments wherever necessary to ensure reliable access.

Initial costs included the purchase of hardware and software, as well as installation. Ongoing costs are minimal aside from annual support agreements with Aruba because the network needs to be up and running to support internal administration anyway. Again, this is very similar to the cost structure of Next Gen’s Wireless Edmonton.

Lachlan told me that the EPL wanted to enable customers to access library services using their own wireless devices for convenience, and to reduce demand for wired public workstations. I suspect another reason for launching the wireless service was to keep up-to-date with other libraries around the world.

If you have a library card, you can sign on for an unlimited connection time. Otherwise you need to request “guest access” by speaking with staff at a service desk, who will set you up with 3 hours of connection time. I’ve tried the service a few times at the Stanley A. Milner library downtown using a library card, and I found it fast and reliable. The connection worked quite well in the Second Cup on the corner too.

Kudos to the Edmonton Public Library for offering this service. I look forward to seeing how it evolves.

Edmonton Public Library "Adventure" Ads

Post ImageIf you live in Edmonton, and listen to the radio occasionally, you may have heard the new ads for the Edmonton Public Library. If you haven’t, fear not, because I am going to summarize them anyway:

There are two young guys trying to skateboard, when one says to the other “I am not cut out for this.” The two are then faced with a problem – what to do? One guy suggests the adventure of a lifetime with dragons and all sorts of other things. The other guy thinks hes crazy. Then the first guy says all of it is possible at the public library. And the two go on their merry way, to slay dragons in their imaginations no doubt.

Now when I heard the commercial, I couldn’t help but laugh. No one I know gets all excited about taking an “adventure” to the public library. I get what they are saying, but I can’t see it working with young people. Maybe I’m just “too cool” but I think their marketing team took the wrong approach with the latest ads.

The goal is clearly to try and bring young people into the library. Instead of some hokey ad about an adventure, why not highlight the aspects of the library that appeal to young people? Things like public computers, excellent study and workspaces, a Second Cup built right in (for the downtown location at least), power outlets for your laptop, and wireless Internet (do they have this?). Okay so I can’t think of as many characteristics that would appeal to young people as I thought, but I am sure they are there. Thing is, I haven’t been to the library in so long, I don’t know what they are.

Do you agree with me? What else about the library would you highlight?

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