Carol Teichrob remembers crates of books arriving in her small community on the train.
People used the honor system to borrow and return the contents. The boxes remained in the post office until all had read their fill, and then they went back on the train and on to the next community. It wasn’t a formal library system, but it worked.
Teichrob, now the Saskatchewan minister responsible for libraries, told a recent conference libraries have played an important role in early prairie life and will continue to do so as life becomes increasingly high-tech.
Technology has changed the role of libraries and created challenges for them, she said, similar to the way it has changed education.
“There are some new basics,” Teichrob told delegates from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota.
Librarians are becoming information specialists, she said. By providing internet access, libraries decrease rural peoples’ sense of isolation and help maintain quality and equality of life, she said. Library boards, however, will have to balance the interests of communities with fiscal realities.
Teichrob noted Saskatchewan has moved to connect its 10 regional library systems electronically, giving complete and “seamless” access to collections.
“We need to, given the geography and sparseness of population … work together and share all of our resources,” she said.
Rosemarie Myrdal, lieutenant-governor of North Dakota, said people living in rural areas have placed these expectations on the state’s libraries, too. They want access to information and opportunities that people in larger centres have, but they want the quality of rural life.
“The library community is responding,” Myrdal said. “Library people have to be very much in touch with the world in which we live. They have to know the information needs. They have to make choices about what to save and what to discard.”
Myrdal said she remembers libraries as a “warm, human place” and they have to stay that way.
Teichrob added all the technological advances won’t change the original role.
“There will always be the need to supply a good read,” said Teichrob.