When a project the size and magnitude of the new Central Library comes forward, where do you start? For the Calgary Public Library Board and the New Central Library Committee, the starting point was to create a vision that would help guide the project from beginning to end.
“We really needed to step back and think about what the purpose of a library is,” says Jamie Niessen, Chair of the Calgary Public Library Board. “We needed a vision that applied across multiple generations of Calgarians, so we knew it needed to be big and bold.”
“Setting a high-level vision was a challenge because libraries do so many things and we are at a crossroads in which the fundamental nature of libraries is undergoing dramatic change,” says Guido Van Rosendaal, member of the Calgary Public Library Board and New Central Library Committee. “The Central Library is a major landmark that makes an important statement about a community and its values.”
Get to the heart of the matter
This type of big thinking challenged the Board and Committee to come up with a single guiding statement that reflected the potential and possibility of libraries. As Niessen looks back on where the vision originated, he comments, “We knew the vision needed to be about more than just the new Central Library. It needed to be about the library system as a whole. The library system operates as entity and the new Central Library is, literally, the heart of it.”
“The Board had a number of conversations about what libraries mean and we were helped by a facilitator and futurist librarian,” says Van Rosendaal of the process used to arrive at the vision. “We were also helped by the observations that came from groups of citizens who participated in dialogues with expert facilitators.”
Ask the big, tough questions
“We have library professionals whose careers have been dedicated to the library service. They helped set the foundation and starting point for our thinking,” says Niessen. “Our Board was tasked with asking the big, tough questions to ensure we are building the right service for Calgarians.”
The resulting vision, “To inspire all,” captures the spirit and grandness of what the new Central Library, and libraries to come, must do.
“We wanted people to see themselves in the vision,” explains Niessen. “It is for everyone and it is meant to be inclusive. It shows that the library is everything that people are into and makes what the library can do unique to each customer.
“Our libraries are a place where people convene to create community. They are the heart of a democracy and are part of the cultural identity of people. We want our libraries to inspire people, so our vision itself is meant to be inspiring.”
With various public engagement and planning activities currently underway, the vision provides a common understanding and goal for each separate component to work towards. “The vision also needed to be focal point for all the work that still needs to take place,” notes Niessen. “There is still much to be done.”