Day 1 | Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Libraries

Day 1 | Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Libraries

Libraries play a crucial role in communities, including in Canada’s downtowns. In addition to being a hub for resources, they also act as a safe place for vulnerable populations and strengthen neighbourhoods by supplying free internet access and providing support for entrepreneurs and newcomers. Two Canadian cities have invested in their downtown libraries, creating iconic meeting places for civic life. What’s their future?

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary W. Rowe [00:00:05] I’m very gratified that I’m not the only person who’s wanting to hear Petula Clark, I see a few people in the chat wanting to hear the Petula Clark version of Downtown, which was my father’s favourite song in 1966-67-68 somewhere in there. So they assure me it’s on the playlist. So OK. And Marco others who are waiting to hear Petula Clark just so you know she will apparently surface in this playlist. Thanks, folks. We’re in the home stretch. We’ve got one great session now on the other side of the anchor institution because we just finished talking about faith institutions and churches, specifically Christian churches. And now we’re going to talk about that other civic institution called a library. And we have two fabulous librarians who are the head of their library systems in Halifax and in Calgary, Asa Kachan and Sarah Meilleur. And we’re really, really pleased to have these folks to talk with us about the potential for libraries, but also just to remind us all what their libraries actually do now and then what is the future of libraries, which is something that’s very important to us at the Urban Institute. We’re really, really, really keen on what the potential is for these places, not only in downtowns but on main streets and in neighbourhoods across the country. But particularly, I know we’re going to talk about downtowns because of their key, key points and in both of your cases, you have made investments in creating magnificent downtown libraries in those two cities. So very, very pleased to have you come and talk to us about the role and the potential in the future for the next 30 minutes. So we’re all yours. I’m going to pass it to you then Asa. Thanks, gang, for continuing to tune in. And then when we’re finished with the library is we’re going to do a recap and just sort of see if we can synthesize what we’ve heard in the last six hours and then how we’re going to set into tomorrow. So over to you Asa, thanks and thanks again for joining us. Great to see both of you. 


Asa Kachan [00:01:44] Hi, everyone. Welcome. Sarah and I love to talk library. So this is sort of in our happy place, two different time zones, but happy to be together and happy to be with you. I’m going to share my screen because sometimes a picture tells, you know, takes the place of a thousand words and we only have half an hour. So we’re going to be cramming a lot in. I think if there’s a resounding message, it is that libraries are an outstanding investment in our communities and in creating the kind of thriving communities we want. And yeah, we’ve got a couple of examples and some of these photos will be nostalgic for you because like, not unlike other parts of the country we are, we are not leaving our homes quite as much as we were. But Sarah and I remain super hopeful and we know that libraries will be part of this recovery as we find our way back together. So I’m going to do a little screen share. There we go. OK, and I’m going to let Sarah take this off because Sarah has. Yeah, Sarah’s got a little story to tell from, a big story to tell from Calgary. 


Sarah Meilleur [00:02:47] Awesome. Thanks, Asa. Well, lovely to be here with all of you today. I’m Sarah Meilleur, the CEO of Calgary Public Library. And it’s so great to be talking about cities and the role of libraries in great cities and in great downtowns. And a part of the reason that I’m here today is because Calgary Central Library really has become an international success story. It opened in 2018 and we saw over two million visitors in the first year that we were open, and it really put Calgary on the map as an international destination. It was featured in the New York Times and in Time Magazine, and municipalities across the world have begun considering their library systems and their downtown libraries in a new light, I think because of Calgary’s Central Library. In fact, its success has inspired many other urban centers to really think about investing in their downtown libraries. Across the country, from Ottawa to Saskatoon and beyond, to Charlotte, North Carolina to Helsinki and to Portland, Oregon. And a part of the reason that Calgary Central Library is so successful is it’s a story of what was an empty parking lot in the downtown that had this rising, curving light rail transit line that bisected it, that split it off from the rest of downtown. And out of that, out of those constraints came this beautiful building, and it is a vibrant hub of community activity that really has transformed the entire library system. And this picture right here is one of the things that is on all the promotional material for this, this area of the city, because it’s a vibrant hub and it’s that key anchor tenant for the growing and developing community of the East Village, and it’s projected to be a neighbourhood that will have eleven thousand residents by the end of the buildout. And so Calgary’s Central Library is critical to that success story of Calgary’s downtown and our East Village, and I know that Halifax’s Central Library has a similar story of redevelopment and revitalization around it. So Asa and I are going to share over the next half hour with you a bit more about the role that libraries play in a downtown community and that they can play in supporting the recovery of your downtowns and your main streets. So Asa over to you. 


Asa Kachan [00:05:15] All right, so in our world in Halifax, and I noticed Pat Sullivan was on the call, Pat’s going to know this street has changed a lot since this picture was taken. In fact, our library opened just over seven years ago and it has almost the I look at the original photos of the downtown looks so different. Parking lots are filled with housing and shops, and there has been a tremendous amount of downtown change and while I would love to say the library did it all. I don’t think that’s true. There were many players in this, but the library made a big difference and it made a big difference on a couple of levels in the, you know, in the first year we opened, we had two million visitors and, you know, the last two years of COVID restrictions aside, 4000 to 6000 people make their way to this library every day and we have this system and it sort of revitalized the whole use of libraries across our municipality. The average person in Halifax, sort of has, during Covid, it was about thirty-five times a year they used the library, even with long periods of closure. Pre-COVID, forty-five times a year and we’re optimistic we’re going to land back there. So that is forty-five times a year for every person. Those are people who are seeking out the library and where we have become embedded in their daily lives. And I think it’s a really interesting example of it, of that sort of social infrastructure that draws people in, invites them to connect to one another. So, you know, on the theme of social infrastructure, you know, I encourage you to think about, you know, we spend a lot of public dollars on infrastructure and you know, some of that infrastructure people intersect with on a regular basis. Obviously, we drive on the roads and pick up the transit. But many of the public spaces that are built, they are not actually spaces that the public spends a lot of time in. Right? So we spend a lot of money on hospitals. We try not to be in those hospitals. Very often we spend money, on courthouses, police stations, government buildings, schools, even some recreational facilities that have memberships and things that may be barriers to access. I think what’s magical about the public library and what makes us that sort of anchor social infrastructure is that there are a lot of those lack of barriers. In fact, where else do you land in a place where you might be next to somebody who has a completely different life experience would be cross ages with cross cultures, we cross lived experiences? And, you know, libraries have been positioning ourselves really well to be the social infrastructure. We’re changing our culture. We have removed fines. So those fines, those pesky fines, I don’t think there’s a big city in Canada anymore that still has library fines, and that makes me really happy because it is about people coming more often, spending more time, connecting with us in a whole variety of different ways, always confident that it is not going to cost them and that they will discover something new. So, you know, food is cool in libraries again, some Covid masking restrictions, but overall people are coming to the library to share knowledge, to learn, to connect with other people, to hear, you know, the rising stars of our arts and culture scene. You know, even dogs are invited into the library. We have reluctant young, reluctant readers. We’ve discovered, you know, you just have them snuggle up with the dog and they calm down and settle in and their reading improves. I think what I love most about the library is you can come with a purpose or you can just come to be. And you know, that idea of just being and it’s hardly addressed is just, that’s a real magic of our community. And that is that sort of low stress being alone in a public space and not being lonely. It’s a pretty magical thing. So, you know, over to you, Sarah, we’re on the frontline in a lot of ways and a lot of quiet ways because we try our very best to do this with dignity. 


Sarah Meilleur [00:09:05] It’s so important that dignity and really, in order to play this role where everyone is welcome, libraries are part and have to be part of an interconnected web of supports, and we work in collaboration with a lot of other community agencies and services. The library can’t replace other infrastructure and shouldn’t. Like shelters, health care outreach teams, but it is a critical part of that interconnected web. In Calgary, we’ve developed specific partnerships focused on things like safety and security and public space management and activation. We work with outreach teams and shelter staff, bylaw, police and social services, and we provide professional learning support for our staff and our security and safety teams have and deploy naloxone when necessary, and we try our best to take a trauma informed response to things that come up. And this is supported by having really an established, behaviour-based code of conduct tracking and analyzing incidents in a formal way to learn from trends and an analysis and work to develop mitigations and action. Libraries really see what is happening in the community, and we respond, we provide things like defibrillators, naloxone, food, washrooms, water, free menstrual products, free Wi-Fi, computer access and a whole lot more. The list just goes on and on. We are also an extreme weather resource, so including shelter from the cold and heat, and we have staff that really help anyone that comes in the door. Triage access to community resources. We help people navigate government services online, especially when they have low language or digital literacy. In short, libraries really reflect the community back to itself, and we lift up and enable other organizations to offer unique support. Because we are the backbone community organization and over to you Asa to talk about how we support teens, an important demographic. 


Asa Kachan [00:11:11] So teens are great. I have often been here. I raised three kids through their teenage years and I have often heard people talk about, you know, gosh, teens, you know, we got to manage them well at Halifax public libraries, we gave teens the best real estate in the house, so we gave them the second floor looking out over the street. The intention was that they would have a place to connect and reach out and look for their peers, draw them into the library. But it’s much more intentional than that. And you know, if you look at 70 percent of youth with mental illness, their symptoms started in childhood. So how do we create those communities? How would we work as community support to empower youth? To offer them hope to allow them to self-determine to talk, allow them to take on responsibility? We have amazing teen volunteers who sit with younger children, particularly newcomer children whose parents don’t speak the language, sit with them and help them with their reading in their early years. You know, there is a real antidote for loneliness and bringing teens together. Food brings teens and we’ve got an amazing group of teens who will cook and feed the community through their public library. They learn the skills, they learn how to read a recipe and our staff, you know, have lots of opportunities with the teens typically will determine the plan. So teen advisory councils tell us what they want to do. Tell us what they’re interested in and we are there to provide them within fact, this great infrastructure to realize their ideas and it’s different for every kid. There is not a teen. They’re teens who want to play chess and there are teens, who want to breakdance and there are teens who are want to cook. You know, this picture I’m showing right now is just one, there are teens who want to change their community and I think giving them the opportunity to do that there’s really good evidence that that is a game-changer in the prevention of severe mental illness. In this case there were teens who said, you know what, with the people, young teens who can’t afford prom dresses, can we put the call out? Invite the community to donate all the prom dresses that were worn once and they had the great prom dress giveaway. So, you know, at the library, we provided the space. We helped with the communications. The teens were taking a challenge they saw in their community and the library became the vehicle for them to address that. And meanwhile, you know, they were great kids walking away with amazing dresses for free. OK, over to you, Sarah. Newcomers are another important demographic in our communities. We need them to settle. 


Sarah Meilleur [00:13:39] Absolutely and immigration in Canada continues to increase, and libraries really are critical supports for newcomers who want to learn about their new country. In Calgary, I represent the library in our local immigration partnership. I’m sure many of your municipalities have them, and a few years ago we conducted a study of which organizations newcomers to Calgary visited and where they found resources and support. And the library was the number one organization they connected with by far because the library serves newcomers of all demographics and all different experiences. We really were the through-line that connected newcomers and all those different organizations that support them. I think. The library is also a place where everyone in the community transcends their friends’ groups and finds themselves side by side with people of other ages, cultures and lived experiences. Asa shared with me a story from Halifax where a newcomer describes the library as “the first place someone talked to me and showed interest in getting to know me.” So libraries support language learning social connection and often play a key role in orienting newcomers to this new country, particularly relating to the work of truth and reconciliation in Canada. And as you saw in the photos, we even hosted citizenship ceremonies at the library. And then libraries also play an important role as business incubators. Economic recovery is top of mind these days for most of us, and I think people sometimes forget or maybe never knew that libraries also function as business incubators. These days, libraries are filled with people who are working from home and need to get out of the house. Books have children at home and need a quiet place for that important meeting. They’re getting ready to start a new business or a side gig and need a place to meet up with partners and plan, or they might just need a place to study. But being a place for all these activities to occur really supports economic recovery. But libraries also play a key role in all the upskilling and reskilling that’s so important right now. We offer free training resources like LinkedIn Learning and Gale courses. We provide free access to business databases and periodical subscriptions, and we offer small business workshops. Even basic resources like access to computers, Wi-Fi, free printing are essential. Combined with job supports, including meetings with career practitioners, help with interviews, resume support. In Calgary, we’ve just launched an entrepreneur in residence program along with our partners at Platform Calgary that really is is designed to help support those budding entrepreneurs who might need a leg up, who might want support and new ideas and mentorship. So that’s just a few examples of how the library is literally the platform for economic recovery for our communities. Over to you, Asa. 


Asa Kachan [00:16:47] So when I was a kid, a lot of the learning that happened in libraries lived in books. So somebody had written the information into a book. I borrowed the book and I went home and learned it, and I would argue that learning in our libraries now is about acquiring skills, confidence, accessing and sharing knowledge. So if we create the right ecosystem in the public library, it’s not a one-way channel from whoever wrote the book to the person who bought it. It is learning in a wide variety of different, different ways. So it’s independent learning. It’s learning, cooking, it’s deepening our understanding of other cultures. It’s embracing arts in our community. It is learning how to sew or 3D print. It is early learning for children. So really interesting studies about the impact of Covid on young children in their emotional and social development. You know, public libraries as we recover from this are a really good place for for parents who might feel isolated to meet each other, for kids to practice sharing practice, you know, negotiating that toy in a good skill development there. And of course, there’s a real matter of literacy. So food literacy, comfortable cooking, digital literacy and, of course, language literacy. And if we really want to start unwrapping language literacy, I’m going to take a whole half hour and talk to you about the really, really frightening impact of, you know, low people, low level literacy and what the impact that has on their employability and their likelihood of involvement in crime and public safety more broadly. Academic outcomes, health care outcomes literacy is one of those foundations. If we can help establish that for people in our community, both language and digital, it’ll be great. And, you know, we’ve got other technologies. So this we have moved beyond. If you want to learn how to podcast and you want to learn how to borrow an instrument and try it out. You always wanted to learn the banjo. Your library might be the place for that. Learning can happen, but we don’t do it alone. Do we Sarah?


Sarah Meilleur [00:18:49] No, you can’t do it alone. Collaboration is one of our values, and one of the things that libraries are great at is lifting up other organizations and providing space to amplify the work of others and convening community partners in the care of our community. We don’t work in silos. So throughout the pandemic, you know, along with providing library services and curbside manners, we’ve also provided masks, hand sanitizer, vaccines, rapid tests, food, activities for children, laptops, you name it. And we’ve worked with partners to meet community needs. And I think that when libraries are at their most successful is when the community sees the library as the place to realize their potential, whatever that potential might be. Calgary’s Central Library also saw between four to six thousand visitors a day pre-pandemic and post-pandemic we’re seeing between two to three thousand visitors a day, and that’s a significant draw to the downtown core. It’s people that weren’t there and aren’t there when the library is closed. One of the core services we provide at Calgary’s Central Library is free meeting rooms of all shapes and sizes. And a year after opening, we did a study of meeting room use based on postal code and the map of room bookings by patrons covered the entire city because the Central Library really is a draw. It’s the building, it’s the services, it’s the experiences and it’s the programs and events and you see here Orange Shirt Day. Calgary Public Calgary Central Library really has become that center of civic life. It’s not just the building, but it’s the entire space it occupies, both inside and outside. We host Canada Day celebrations, the Orange Shirt Day events, the number of events in our performance hall in the first year 540 events in our first year of opening. Do the math on that. Speak to the activation and that sort of anchor tenant role the library has. So I like to think of three roles for the library to play as programmer, as partner and sometimes just a space. But when the community utilizes us in all of those ways, then we truly are that civic space that creates a more equitable and resilient community. Asa over to you. 


Asa Kachan [00:21:11] Well, I would add to that we we are fundamentally defenders of democracy. So libraries are built on equity. They have always been free, they have always been, the intent has always been to lift everyone up. And you know, that is happening in different ways. We need to be the places where our community comes together to talk about the issues that matter in our community, and it’ll be different in each of our in each of our municipalities. But, you know, really that idea of it belonging to everybody then invites the conversations. And we have become really polarized over the last couple of years. And anybody who follows online discourse and people sit in an echo chamber, sometimes online and the idea that they believed in the first instance, just get that back to them. And what we really need is this idea of the public discourse in the public space to get to know each other again, to recover with one another. You know, I also think, you know, digital democracy is really important. So the idea that just, you know, think about the what would you do if your internet went down for three days, it would impact your communication. It would impact your ability to maybe pay your bills and do a lot of the activities that you rely on that infrastructure for. We have so many people, a surprising number of people. They’re not the people on this call who live without reliable internet access, except for through their public library. And, you know, last year, Halifax has a population of 450,000. We have four point five million log on to our free Wi-Fi last year, and we did that because we spill it out as far as we can outside our branch. We leave it on 24 hours a day. You know, people need a Chromebook to access that. We’ll give them a Chromebook. And you know, we take this role of defending democracy to heart, make helping people navigate election systems, inviting them to conversations and debates about what are important issues that we should be paying attention to as communities. That is, you know, that is how we make things work and we’re trusted as a result of it. The folks who were distributing vaccines in our community and a number of community locations said people more readily came to the library with their children to get those vaccinations because there was no wondering if it costs. There was no wondering if they were welcome. You know, our our community needs the library. So, you know, we want to talk about now, it’s our little call to action, Sarah. We can’t afford not to invest in libraries. You know, you, you start with your pitch and I’ll follow with mine. 


Sarah Meilleur [00:23:42] Sounds good. Well, first off, I want to say cheers to the cities that have done this and are realizing and acting on the possibility that your libraries can provide to help revitalize your downtowns and not just your downtowns, but your entire communities. And to those of you that haven’t yet. If you think of your central library or think of your branch libraries and see opportunities to update the spaces and the experiences to better serve your community, well, now is the time. Libraries have increased our hours of service. Many of us are open on holidays, Sundays year-round and with increased funding and support, we really can do more. In Calgary, our central library and the neighborhood around it really are a destination for the world and for the entire city. Families make it a part of their weekends because there’s great coffee restaurants, playgrounds and yet the real draw really is the library. With our early learning center, with that space for teens to hang out, interactive exhibits, programs and events and sometimes even swing dancing and yoga. I said we had two million visitors in our first year and we had over 35,000 room bookings and over 200,000 attendees to program since then as well. So imagine the impact of those many visitors to your downtown and on your community if you increased your investment in your library system. Asa over to you. Your turn to pitch. 


Asa Kachan [00:25:11] Right, so that investment, you know, people look at these beautiful buildings, they think about $4.5 million, you know Wi-fi, log ons and all this attendance. We are, we are such a drop in the bucket. So and on our municipal level, two percent of the operating expenditures of the municipality come to the library. About 10 percent go to police. When we talk about and that’s not a criticism of police is more to say. If we talk about that upstream work we can do that actually improves the safety of our communities. That improves our ability to work together and to be alongside one another. We can actually head off a lot of those problems at the past. So there was an interesting study a few years ago in Los Angeles when funding was cut to the library and they decided to keep the library open some days and not some days. And there was a direct correlation to the amount of crime in the community. So this lifting up that we do, it isn’t just about the delivery of library service, it actually has a spillover into how we how we work together, so, you know, time spent there. One of the findings of the L.A. study was time spent in libraries, this time not spent in front of criminally risky situations, right? Where does somebody who experiences domestic violence go to have a place and a safe haven? And you know, that is happening every day? Teens who feel out of sync with their peers, we are that soft place to land. And meanwhile, they’re going to, you know, they’re going to get entertained and they’re going to learn and they’re going to make friends. And it’s kind of magical. So, you know, I would argue we can’t afford not to invest well in our libraries, some of its infrastructure. And, you know, kudos to the cities that are doing it. You know, I think you mentioned some Charlottetown, Guelf. Well, if I just saw this schematic for Saskatoon, where I grew up so excited for Saskatoon and you know, that infrastructure is part of it and the other is really the money to operate it. If we spill later into the evening, your downtowns are, are, you know, are coming to life. So that’s our pitch where I think we’re 6:27. How do we do Mary? Over to you. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:27:15] Stellar, stellar, but don’t go. But don’t go anywhere because I want to continue to have a conversation with you, folks, because I think that it’s just as we, you know, I can just see in the chat, everybody just wants to listen to you, girls. I can call you girls because I’m a girl. You women all afternoon because you’re just speaking to the kind of key elements of what make community work. There are all these different components, and it’s actually one of the things you and I talked about Asa a couple of weeks ago was, you know, should we be looking at libraries being open on statutory holidays? Because because, you know, does it make sense for a library to be closed on Christmas Day when there are tons of people who don’t celebrate Christmas? And then all of a sudden, you know, they would make use of the library on Christmas Day. And I even wondered whether we should be looking at 24-7 libraries, which I’m sure would make all the library unions have a nervous breakdown. But I just think, you know, is it that crucial an amenity? 


Asa Kachan [00:28:11] Well, it is crucial. And actually, you know, when you look at the lense like, what is the thing we’re trying to move and what are we trying to address? So if we use actually Christmas Day and New Year’s Day as examples, if you actually, if part of what we would like to do is to be a partner in the protection of women and children or men are also experience domestic violence. But if we want to reduce domestic violence, well, we should be open on the days when individuals are most likely to experience domestic violence. And you know what? That is Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. So if we start taking additional lenses, we’ve already built the infrastructure. Now, how do we leverage that to have the greatest impact that we can on the outcome of our communities? This is about thriving and you know, it’s you know what, that two percent of the municipal spending like that it’s not quite a rounding error, but it’s really not a big picture item for us. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:29:07] Yeah, like let’s talk about that for a sec because I don’t think, you know, does it make sense to be funding libraries sort of the crucible of civilization off of the property tax? I mean, we are going to have sessions now. We’re going to immediately from you, go into a session on what are the implications of the sessions today. And I’m certain that part of what we need to talk about is how are we going to pay for these things, like what is the right way to pay for these services? And does it make sense to pay it off and inelastic tax source like property taxes? Is it not actually of an interest of the provincial and federal governments to have functioning libraries or what did you call them, Asa defenders of democracy? 


Asa Kachan [00:29:43] I completely agree with you on that. In fact, I think I think if we really think about it at every level, if it improves employability, if it reduces crime, if it improves educational outcomes, if it improves health care, then you know, we’re really it’s I mean, it should be of absolute interest to every level of government because if we help people build their literacy and save them from health complications later in their life because they can’t read the medication or they can’t diagnose their symptoms enough to go to the doctor like we’ve actually we’ve actually saved the health care system. So my library does get provincial funding. So I get about, oh, about 15 percent of my funding from the province. It varies depending. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:30:27] How much one five? 


[00:30:29] Yeah. About 15%.


Mary W. Rowe [00:30:30]  It’s interesting what you just said. I mean, we’re going to, we are hoping to do some sort of further investigation again. As I said, each of these sessions, we’re hoping, will lead to some robust research in case making and and for libraries your point you just made about that, you’re deferring other costs. In other words, you’re saving the health care system or are we saving the shelter system or are we are we keeping people in school longer because the libraries can supplement somehow their attachment to the education system? There was a question in the chat actually about school boards. Are you, do you have contact with school boards? Is there a relationship? Sort of a collaborative relationship, Sarah, what’s going on in Calgary with school boards? 


Sarah Meilleur [00:31:07] Absolutely. It’s a great question because, you know, you think about the impacts for students and families of the last couple of years, and libraries have a critical role to play. You know, one of the things we did early on in the pandemic was added a school support librarian in place focused on just working with schools. We have relationships and partnerships and we delivered deposit collections to them and we support through electronic resources to help tutoring and support. And we have a really important role to play during the summers and to support summer learning and really hopefully have a positive impact on summer slide and that there’s not so much of it, particularly for those kids and families who don’t have access to other resources or other learning. The library is free and open for all, and if we can provide fantastic programs and resources and encourage kids to read over the summer months, and it’s so important right now, so it’s a real focus area in Calgary is those relationships with school boards and is helping students after the impacts of this pandemic and not learning loss. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:32:14] Do you have any anxiety about libraries becoming too much, like can you be all things to all people like, I’m not hearing that from you at all. And I know that when I was in the United States, we were involved in some library research there story and there was some concern. Some librarians were pushing back, saying, Come on, we can’t. We can’t be everything to everybody, and we’re already dealing with the homeless population. Do you have aspects of that? Or it sounds to me like you have sort of moved your own approach in your workforce with you to kind of be this kind of adaptive kind of resourceful hub? 


Sarah Meilleur [00:32:48] You know, Mary, I think a part of that really is that we don’t do it alone. It comes back to that foundational we work in collaboration and we support other organizations. So we work in partnership. You know, we might not be the experts or the career practitioners, but in Calgary, we work with Bow Valley College. And so that’s how we’re supporting job supports and that’s supporting another organization, but also really meeting those community needs. So I think if we try and do it all ourselves and become the expert in everything, that’s a problem. But libraries don’t do that. We are really excellent at collaboration and in working with other partners. And that’s the key to our success. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:33:26] Mm-Hmm. Go ahead.


Asa Kachan [00:33:29] The funding is a piece of it, Mary, right? If we’re facing funding cuts and everything’s landing on us, that doesn’t work, right? But we, you know, we can advocate for the funding. We can, you know, every time in the pandemic when our Department of Health has reached out to us and have said, Oh, listen, we need to get masks to people, can you help? Can you host rapid testing? Do you mind hosting vaccination clinics? People know where you are. They can find their way. And you know, to me, that’s actually a real vote of confidence because they understand the role that we can play, that we are that trusted institution. I think I saw a really interesting comment in the chat that I don’t want to let go by and it’s really around climate change, waste reduction. So if we are going to live within the carrying capacity of the world, we need to figure out how we don’t acquire and accumulate so much stuff. And so, you know, libraries, we already have this amazing sharing infrastructure. How do we leverage that? So our health department, we’ve got a radon problem and our and our bedrock here in Nova Scotia, you know, radon people shouldn’t buy radon detectors to drop them in their basement for six weeks to test the radon. Like why not borrow from your public library? So where, how do we also then even leverage our infrastructure and our spaces in a way that that really improves our climate resilience and are changing the way we consume? 


Mary W. Rowe [00:34:49] You know, I saw in the chat someone, one of the people said that their local library had a fish lending service. 


Asa Kachan [00:34:56] Yeah, I saw that too. That is a first. I thought I knew everything. 


[00:35:02] I thought they meant, you know, I could borrow a goldfish to come and be at my house. But it turns out it’s fishing rods. But but you just added radon, you know, come to the library to get your rate on measures. So, you know, I think that we’re going to round this up and go to our summary session. But I think, you know, as we’ve had this two years of extraordinary challenge, you know, we’re suddenly put into a place of really looking around and saying, What can we count on? What are, where’s the place we can go? And how do we make sure that we can find a way to reach out to one another on platforms that you only really provide when we’re in a crisis like this again, you know, and we’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the right resources, the library systems have the right resources and the capacity and the staff and all the kinds of things that you’re going to need. As we continue to build someone like Robert, my colleague has just put in the chat that libraries are resilience embodied. You are embodied resilience. So thank you for joining us. The other thing is, libraries can be beautiful. They can be unbelievably dynamic. The pictures that you were showing fantastic. We all, as I say, know of iconic buildings that are libraries, and they can be enlivened with programing in different kinds of uses and different kinds of people. And so thank you for being part of this discussion about how do we bring back downtowns and the critical role of anchor institutions being libraries.


Asa Kachan [00:36:18] Can I add one more point, Mary? 


Mary W. Rowe [00:36:19] Go. 


[00:36:20] You talked about design, you know, as people pay attention, care about the design like it is fascinating. We built these beautiful buildings and everybody’s behavior elevates like they’re gracious, they’re kind. They take great care of it. You know, we allow food in the central library and people aren’t smearing pizza. They want to take care of it because it’s beautiful and it belongs to them. So you know what that is. So don’t just go utilitarian, like build beautiful and it it improves everybody’s life. There’s beauty in great architecture. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:36:50] There we go. There we go. I can see people’s hearts singing on that. Sarah, great to see you. Asa always great to see you. Thanks for all the librarians that came on. There’s quite a number of them in the chat and we appreciate. 


Asa Kachan [00:37:01]  They are the bomb. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:37:02] They are the bomb. 


Asa Kachan [00:37:03] They are great people.


[00:37:04] Just to be clear, I’m going to go borrow a fish tonight. Thank you for joining us. And I now going to invite our wrap up panel to come on and Asa and Sarah, thanks again. And now I’m fortunate that we’re going to have some fresh minds here are going to come and help us make sense of what we’ve been listening to. 


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

05:55:35 Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome back everyone! Our next and final session for the day is: Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Libraries (5:00pm – 5:30pm ET) with Åsa Kachan, CEO and Chief Librarian, Halifax Public Libraries, and Sarah Meilleur, Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Public Library

05:56:06 Marco Zanetti: Cheers

05:57:00 Kay Matthews: 👍🏻

05:57:33 Canadian Urban Institute: Åsa Kachan is the CEO and chief librarian for Halifax Public Libraries. Prior to her role with the Libraries, Kachan spent 16 years in senior administrative roles at universities, most recently serving as the assistant vice-president, Enrolment Management & Registrar, for Dalhousie University from 2004 to 2014. During her time at Dalhousie, Kachan made key changes to improve the student experience, including by revamping undergraduate scholarships and bursaries, modernizing admission and recruitment practices, and improving front-line student services. Kachan holds a master’s in library sciences from Western University and a bachelor of arts in anthropology from the University of Saskatchewan.

05:57:46 Canadian Urban Institute: Sarah Meilleur is the CEO of The Calgary Public Library. Sarah Meilleur has worked at the Library for more than a decade in a variety of roles and was appointed interim CEO in April 2021. She is the seventh CEO of the Calgary Public Library in its 109 years and is the first woman to hold the permanent role.

05:58:22 Canadian Urban Institute: Our summit is being offered in both French and English. Please click on the globe at the bottom of your screen and select your preferred language.
We are recording today’s session and will share it online at  


We hope this summit is as interactive as possible, so please feel free to share comments, references, links and questions in the chat.

05:58:56 throy ross: Looks amazing

06:00:36 Laura Wall: London ON built a new downtown library in the downtown mall that was dying – it is a treasure (though not as beautiful as Calgary’s!)

06:01:28 Tom Yarmon: ›my Gosh!  next to the old St. Louis Hotel….favourite tavern a lifetime ago when I worked in the really old historic City Hall.. So good to see the spectacular library there.  tom yarmon

06:01:37 paul mackinnon: Can attest that the Halifax Library was a game-changer, and has spurred lots of additional private and public investment.

06:02:23 Philippa Von Ziegenweidt: The session on faith institutions was excellent and I’m so excited to be learning about these two Canadian libraries. That said, it’s so frustrating that an arguably even more important anchor institution is being removed from Windsor ON’s urban core. More than 4,000 hospital workers (from both urban campuses) are to be relocated to a beanfield on the city outskirts 13km from downtown. We should learn from the libraries’ positive experience!

06:02:41 paul mackinnon: Also a great venue for conferences and events.

06:03:48 paul mackinnon: Philippa, was that a provincial decision? We have seen similar moves, where the province seems to be acting vs city plans. One of the reasons we need a tri-level downtown recovery strategy.

06:04:22 Philippa Von Ziegenweidt: Paul, it was a local decision that was provincially approved and endorsed.

06:05:28 Jennifer Findlay: Our library has a fish lending library where you can borrow fishing gear.   Totally cool for a Lake-based community. Kenora, Ontario on Lake of the Woods

06:05:29 Voncelle Volté: Indeed, libraries are magic. 



06:06:10 Graham Singh: Thank you all very much for amazing feedback in the chat!  We’ll be working through in the next few days.  In the meantime, here is a link to some of the content that Donna, Stephen and I referenced – we’re working with @Mary and the CUI team at re-packaging these kinds of resources for you in the future, so stay tuned!  For now, links here:

06:06:41 Kay Matthews: and public washrooms, which are key

06:06:55 paul mackinnon: Now that I think of it, the Halifax Library is on the site of a hospital that closed in 1996, and was subsequently demolished.

06:07:11 Elizabeth McAllister: Halifax Library (Tantallon) has autism days when florescent lights are turned off and it is quiet! Wow!

06:07:57 Elizabeth McAllister: Librarians seem to be the public servants most able to adapt and change..innovate. Lets find out why and spread the magic!

06:10:38 Karen Dar Woon: My goodness, was that a photo of cooking happening in Halifax Library? 👍🏼

06:11:33 Canadian Urban Institute: Hi everyone. A friendly reminder to change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

06:12:14 Andrea Steenbakkers: This is incredible. The potential is limitless.

06:14:06 Chris Sones: I’ve had a chance to visit both the Halifax and Calgary central libraries – they’re such great spaces, and it seems like there are so many great things happening there!

06:14:07 Lanrick Bennett: Libraries are that human tissue that connects communities. Connects people. The ultimate cultural hub. Still one of the safest places for people. Regardless of your age, sex, colour, creed. You don’t need money, just ability to come through the doors. Huge life line here in Toronto. Now it’s time that the city and those with the means and funds to start the reinvestment in this very important social infrastructure.

06:15:16 Elizabeth McAllister: Outcomes are only achieved through partnership.

06:15:51 Erwin Dreessen: Living in Ottawa, I weep.

06:16:16 paul mackinnon: A challenge is to measure the ROI for municipalities. Many big cities seem to have gotten past this though. Have municipalities maintained steady funding through the pandemic? Have some cities delayed library investments because of Covid?

06:17:57 Canadian Urban Institute: Hi everyone. A friendly reminder to change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

06:18:54 Elizabeth McAllister: Some of our suburban communties argue that instead of a central library the city should be creating more community based libraries. I see from your discussions the advantages of having a larger communal space. What would you say to our suburban friends?

06:19:58 Mona Moreau: How do your school boards connect or compliment – their school libraries and your public libraries?

06:20:22 Tzu Chen Wang: libraries are the new community centres 😀

06:20:28 Catherine Deegan: our local library has a seed library at no cost and ask that seeds from the plants you grow are donated back to the library

06:20:48 Philip Brown: City of Charlottetown, the Province of Prince Edward Island and the Federal Government of Canada will be investing over $14m to renovate the ground floor of former Dominion Building (Federal Building) to accommodate a new learning centre for Charlottetown and region. Great collaboration and cooperation in making this learning space available to all. Any ideas to make it more culturally and ethnically inclusive?

06:23:17 Adriana Dossena: Thanks for your great presentation!  With all the events that are taking place at the library, are you finding event related materials being shared there too? Eg dishware, fabric to avoid disposables & support community members?

06:23:37 Michelle Groulx: Thank you for a great presentation!

06:23:59 Mary Chevreau: Great presentation. Thanks Asa and Sarah!

06:24:44 Philip Brown: Also, BIG shout-out to our local BIA (Downtown Charlottetown Inc.) in facilitating this project. BIG thanks to Dawn Alan, Executive Director for her determination and persistence in making this project going forward.

06:25:30 Shauna Sylvester: Loving this discussion

06:26:30 Adriana Dossena: reducing waste costs!

06:26:48 Elizabeth McAllister: This is  a key impediment for cities investing in prevention. They pay out of a limited tax base and the provincial/federal coffers see the savings. Partnerships and polled finding across jurisdictions is key.

06:27:13 Graham Singh: AMAZING – it always BLOWS my MIND when we connect the story of FAITH properties and LIBRARIES – it is INCREDIBLE to think of the opportunity for us to set this question on fire!  To me, the answer keeps going back, again and and again and again, to a new infrastructure fund aimed specifically at the transformation of these kinds of gathering places.   I keep going back to Tim’s comment about the school dance.  Why do so many urban actors, not see the importance we are discussing now?   AWESOME presentation ASA and SARAH!!!!

06:27:21 Cameron Charlebois: Brilliant, thank you.👍👍👍 Popular, accessible destinations can go a long way to restore the core.

06:27:33 Elizabeth McAllister: Pooled funding across  jurisdictions.

06:28:34 Vicki Jacobs: This presentation is so inspiring.  Sudbury is currently planning a new central library. Fingers crossed that it is similar to these two models.  What a treasure for a city.

06:28:53 Karen Dar Woon: When libraries are respected, with stable funding, the staff at public libraries can do amazing things. Public Libraries support other organizations.

06:28:57 Sarah Vereault: Love the re-invention of libraries as core social infrastructure, and their role in bringing together such a wide spectrum of our population. Sudbury, ON is proposing a new central library in our downtown and following this presentation, and it appears we can’t do this soon enough!

06:29:26 Shannon Bowler: Really inspiring discussion!

06:29:56 Robert Plitt: Libraries are resilience embodied

06:30:15 Canadian Urban Institute: Thank you so much Asa and Sarah.

06:30:24 Elizabeth McAllister: Need more women in decision making position. City planners could use more women to design our cities for everyone!

06:31:03 Kelly Bergeron: Agreed with that Elizabeth!

06:31:30 Jan Mowbray: need more women city planners but even more need for more female councillors to help the cause

06:31:33 Catherine Deegan: Great, energetic, inspiring, informative sessions !  #librariesrule