Dr. Rick Huijbregts' Blog Posts

Astronauts and Libraries

What have astronauts and libraries in common? Probably nothing.

The Toronto Public Library is the largest public library system in Canada and the busiest in the world. Every year more than 18.5 million people visit its 100 branches and borrow over 32 million items (more than books). It’s mission is to provide free and equitable access to services which meet the changing needs of Torontonians. And changing they are.

I have fond memories of my visits to the public library when I was a child in a small town in the Netherlands. This is where we would go to learn about anything and everything and where I would get the materials for pretty much all my school projects. I remember the small books about dinosaurs, oil refineries, cars and trucks…and astronauts. The library helped me through my forming years in primary and secondary school and prepared me for the big world. (Note: there was little alternative and the Internet would not be publicly available until at least 12 years later).

In today’s world that is characterized by digital, hyper connectivity, the Internet, and small devices that fit in our pockets that can access more information than we’ll ever be able to consume, we may consider access to free books an obsolete notion and the need for a library to be increasingly irrelevant. Toronto Chief Librarian Vickery Bowles and her staff have repeatedly demonstrated that nothing is further from the truth.

Libraries have become so much more than a place to borrow books. Innovative programming –from its Digital Innovation Hub; language, computer, and music classes; delivery of citizen services; access to the Internet (yes indeed, despite popular believe, not every Canadian has affordable access to the Internet…yet); to its amazing lecture series by renowned authors and artists — anchors the library in its community where old, young, and new Canadians can learn, consume, collaborate, and grow. The Toronto Public Library (and all other libraries throughout Canada) is a pretty amazing place.

To no surprise, unfortunately, the library is not free from operational and budgetary pressures. How can a library system deliver more innovative programming in more places across the community with fewer budgetary resources, each and every year? Technology can help.

The Toronto Public Library is using digital capabilities to enhance its services and improve the citizen experience. On November 11th, the Toronto Public Library asked Astronaut Chris Hadfield to visit and engage with kids in five different library locations and one classroom in Deer Lake First Nation (almost 1,900 km to the Northwest of Toronto). In front of 200-some guests, Chris asked 80+ children in these six remote locations to collaborate on solving challenges that one might experience when in space and answer the question ‘How to be an Astronaut’. To top it off, Chris presented the practical lessons he’s learned throughout his career on collaboration, teamwork and science.

In today’s connected world, it wouldn’t be right for only an audience in the beautiful Bram and Bluma Appel Salon of the main Toronto Reference Library to experience Chris and his life lessons from his amazing journeys. Instead, the Toronto Public Library used Cisco TelePresence to connect the six remote locations to deliver an unprecedented in-person experience. As physical boundaries fade with cutting edge video technologies, suddenly the footprint of Canada’s largest library system becomes a whole lot bigger–and services can be consumed and experienced by all Torontonians in all its neighborhoods.

This is just the beginning. This little trial with Chris Hadfield and Cisco TelePresence only accelerates the digital transformation of the Toronto Public Library, and soon every other library, museum, school, and community center in Canada. A connected Canada stands to gain from the amazing programming of the Toronto Public Library and Cisco TelePresence helps them to do this cost effectively while reaching more audiences that depend on the library’s services.

Stay tuned for how else the Toronto Public Library and Cisco will collaborate on testing and implementing leading edge digital capabilities that deliver relevant services to every corner of the city, province, and country.

#libraries #rickhuijbregts #astronauts #chrishadfield #telepresence #cisco #TorontoPublicLibrary #VickeryBowles

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