“The coolest experience I had was when as a child the KPL mobile library came near my home…I remember thinking that I was the luckiest kid to have the library come to me! It was such a special treat.”

One thing we hear often in our engagement is that it’s hard to get to the library. Some communities are just so spread out, it’s impossible to have a library location close to everyone. Some communities are growing too fast for library facilities to keep up, leaving a lot of areas underserved. Often traffic, congestion, and lack of transit compound all of these challenges.

It’s also difficult for people to know what’s happening at their library. Libraries have added so many new and interesting services that community awareness is one of the biggest barriers to use. Through engagement, we often hear people make suggestions for things the library already offers.

As a result, a prominent theme in all of our community engagement is about creating new ways to access the library. We often think of libraries as physical spaces, and there have been a lot of excellent space-based initiatives to re-envision what a library means to its community.

So, how can libraries get outside their walls and into their communities?

Everywhere you look, libraries are already doing excellent work in this regard. We’ve gone through our community engagement outputs and pulled in a few interesting initiatives happening at libraries in Canada to explore some ideas for taking library services out into the community.

The ideas below are by no means exhaustive, but they will offer a glimpse of how libraries can branch out into communities


1. Mini-libraries

A strong theme in all of our engagement is making the library more accessible to folks by creating more numerous, smaller library spaces. This includes ideas from small storefront locations to book vending machines to a library corner set up in an existing community space.

These scaled-down libraries might allow people to do things like browse a small selection, sit and read a book, pick up items on hold, use library technology or access a children’s area.

Depending on the setup, they wouldn’t necessarily need to be staffed. Throughout Overlap’s library engagement, we’ve heard some interesting ideas for where these mini-libraries might be found:

  • “Partner with health care providers to have mini-libraries in waiting rooms.” (this idea is actually from our patient engagement work)
  • “Work with a local business (ex. Gas station or grocery store) to provide library material pickup/drop-off services”
  • “Encourage or partner with the ‘little libraries’ in neighbourhoods”

People also love the idea of libraries integrated with transit hubs, making their commute a little brighter.

“Who would have thought we would see the day when a library is located in a transportation hub? With our amazing ION light rail now functioning optimally, we can connect to GO trains and buses efficiently to get to our jobs. So, as you can guess, we need a quick–stop library where we can let off our returns, pick up the holds placed on hold while on the bus on the way to work in the morning and browse the floating collection of magazines, etc. when we return home in the evening. My children do the same on the local buses to get home. Yes, they also stop at the new HUB transportation centre. You would love it!”

– A community engagement participant, imagining the future of their library.



2. Pop-Up libraries

The bookmobile is an old concept for library outreach, and the idea of a library that pops up somewhere and then moves on is still popular today.

Whether it’s a pop-up tent with a few tables, an actual vehicle, or a travel kit that fits into a suitcase, we’ve heard a lot about this idea from people we’ve engaged with. It’s great for getting the library out there in the summer months when people want to be spending their time outdoors. It’s also an easily way to bring the library to special community events or a busy park on a weekend.

The pop-up library idea is a great opportunity to showcase some of the new services the library offers to people that don’t often come to library spaces.

Here are a few things we’ve heard about pop-up libraries in our engagement:

Pop-up libraries would be kind of cool, that could tie-in to happenings in the community. A lot of people are unaware of what the community has to offer, so this could also be a communication piece. It takes the library to the community as opposed to taking the community to the library.”

“I would like to see the library provide services to other neighbourhoods. Not with other buildings, they cost too much to maintain and staff. Look at the Edmonton model with trucks of supplies and staff that open library spaces in parks, seniors centres, and bank lobbies, among other places. They also have an iPad lending library. Can we do this?”



3. Travelling Librarians

“We love the Library on the Loose Program. The outreach is great and helps to personify children’s librarians. It’s less intimidating to have the library brought to you.”

Travelling Librarians is an idea for getting librarians and other library staff out into the community so they can better share their skills. Many libraries have arrangements with local elementary schools for this sort of thing, and traditional options such as visiting library services are priceless to those homebound members who access them.

What we’ve uncovered through our engagement are opportunities for this type of outreach to grow. Libraries can share their staff’s strengths and expertise—in areas such as literacy, research, children’s programming or technology—through partner organizations, bringing the library exposure to new audiences and in new locations.

Setting up these offerings as secondments or exchanges can also be a great way to bring the skills the library doesn’t have in-house to library members.

Through engagement, we’ve often heard people requesting library services that are also offered by organizations that specialize in areas such as business and entrepreneurship, arts and culture, social services, making, technology, and education. It’s interesting to explore how the library can leverage other organizations to bring these services to their users.

For example, the library might teach a course on research skills at a college in exchange for a lecture at the library, or offer adult literacy programming at a social agency in exchange for social work expertise. The library shares many goals and users with other community organizations and reciprocal partnerships could ensure that everyone (the library, the partner organization, and ultimately the people served) can benefit.


As our communities grow and diversify, our libraries grow and diversify too.

Libraries play a unique and crucial role in connecting the community with resources, information, and a safe space to learn and grow. You can likely agree that we want those connections to be available to as many people within the community as possible.

These are just a few ideas for ways libraries can expand their reach, broadening their impact in their communities. What new ideas do you have for how libraries can reach more community members?


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