OPL and Cultural Integirty and Regional Identity Plus, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa



OPL and Cultural Integirty and Regional Identity Plus, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr Seuss

The public library is the gift that keeps on giving.  The traditional idea of a bricks and mortar building housing books is an antiquated model of what a library is today.  A quick glance at the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) website demonstrates that book lending is just one facet of its many roles.  From homework help to employment assistant, there is a plethora of activities and resources that help people of all ages and cultures to help work, live and play.  With restricted budgets, funding libraries can sometimes be controversial especially when compared to other social needs, yet the value of libraries should not be underrated.

A study was recently organized by the CEOs of various Northern Ontario libraries that assessed the public value of libraries.  Although the study was looking at northern rural libraries and their value on the communities, the framework provided in the study is useful and applicable to Ottawa’s public library. The framework proposes a Social Return on Investment (SROI) for understanding and valuing libraries.  Derived from financial terminology, Return on Investment (ROI), SROI looks at the social impact of a business or a non-profit in dollar terms rather than solely on a financial return.  Cultural, educational and economic benefits are measured and used to determine the value of the service provided. “SROI far outweighs the dollars invested, because public services are often delivered at a minimum level to address the most severe deficits.”

The framework for valuing contributions of libraries identified 7 areas:

  1. Cultural integrity & Regional Identity
  2. Social Inclusion
  3. Cognitive & Literacy Development
  4. Health and Wellness
  5. Engaged Citizens & Safer Communities
  6. Entertainment & Enjoyment
  7. Economic Development


Cultural Integrity & Regional Identity

The diverse cultural composition of Ottawa is reflected in the many programs that the library offers to its members of different cultural backgrounds.    For example, the OPL is a partner in the Library Settlement Partnership (LSP) program. This program helps newcomers settle into the community by linking individuals and families to community and settlement services through partner-led group information sessions. Furthermore, throughout its branches, OPL offers programs such as language learning for newcomers, citizenship information to aid those applying for Canadian citizenship and other courses that celebrate the different nationalities that make up our City.  Of course, the library also carries many materials in different languages.


Social Inclusion

Access to the Internet is a necessity in today’s world but not everyone has access at home.  The public library broadband is crucial for public access to web-based information and services. In 2018 the OPL launched the WiFi Hotspot pilot project which provides internet access to underserved communities.  The Ottawa Community Housing and Ottawa Community & Social Services referred clients to this service.  As well, to be more inclusive of all abilities, The Digital Accessible Information System audiobooks are available for any person with a disability that prevents them from reading printed material


Cognitive & Literacy Development

The OPL is an important tool for homeschoolers and for general literacy.  Many programs are offered to all ages to improve literacy from toddlers to teenagers.  Homework clubs and Raising Readers Early Years program are but two examples of programs that encourage learning. Studies have shown that children get ready to read years before they start school. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in developing early literacy skills in children beginning at birth. Early Literacy is everything that a child knows about reading before actually learning how to read. To help children and families develop critical Early Literacy skills, the library has adopted Every Child Ready to Read®, an early childhood literacy program developed by the American Library Association. In fact, 2018 saw almost 24, 000 people participate in the Summer Reading Club.


Health and Wellness

OPL provides many resources including programs to assist residents with their well-being offering, for example, prenatal classes.


Engaged Citizens & Safer Communities

The celebration of Black History Month is but one example of how the OPL serves as a conduit for discussions that centre around race relations.  Education is key to acceptance and understanding.


Entertainment & Enjoyment

OPL offers many choices for residents to enjoy leisure activities.  From talks to workshops, all that is needed is a valid library card to access hours of entertainment.  14, 800 programs were offered in 2018. The OPL carries museum passes that give families the ability to enjoy Ottawa museums for free.  The musical instrument collection is also an innovative resource that helps introduce and encourage burgeoning musicians.  The partnerships that OPL fosters with among them National Arts Centre and the Ottawa International Writers Festival help present high-calibre programs and events. Five branches in Ottawa also provide the opportunity to explore the latest in Virtual Reality.  This service helps provide access to new and emerging technologies.  A digital music editing lab was introduced at the Ruth E. Dickinson branch in Barrhaven for digital music.creation and editing.


Economic Development

Beyond the employment opportunities that the library offers, the many volunteers who help keep the library running benefit themselves from learning interpersonal and professional skills.  Library customers can also find much help with employment matters whether they are seeking help in an employment search or are looking to start their own business.


Dr Seuss may have been referring only to reading when he wrote his quote on learning, but learning today comes in many different forms.   The OPL offers so many choices to learn whether through workshops, on-site and digital collections, and of course, through their book collection.  The social returns of the library are immeasurable.  All you need to take advantage of it all is a library card.