SUDBURY — In Sudbury, anyone interested in trying snowshoeing or fishing can turn to an unlikely resource: the local library branch.
Snowshoes and fishing rods are some of the items available on loan through the Greater Sudbury Library’s object-lending programs, the bulk of which have been launched since 2014, when the public institution began dispensing fishing equipment, complete with rod and tacklebox. Together, the programs form an informal initiative that sees the library system bolster literary offerings with access to a wide range of items and services, from sporting equipment to a makerspace at the central Mackenzie Street branch.
Pierre Dubuc, program director for the Greater Sudbury Library, says the object-lending effort was devised to counter waning interest in the traditional system. “These kinds of things are popping up at some libraries across Canada,” he says, noting that snowshoes and fishing rods put a unique Sudbury spin on the idea. “There are definitely trends within the library world that we've hopped on and some that we've tried to initiate ourselves.”
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Since 2016, the Greater Sudbury Library has rented out snowshoes from 10 of its 13 locations to those looking for a winter hike — the area boasts more than 100 kilometres of urban trails and 330 lakes. “It ties very well to the fabric of Sudbury,” says Dubuc of the outdoor rentals. “We're fortunate to have so many lakes in our community and so many trails, and not every community is fortunate to have those kinds of things.”
The library has loaned out snowshoes 221 times since January 11; last year, it loaned out fishing rods with tackle 55 times. Since these programs began, it’s loaned snowshoes 1,635 times and fishing kits 145. Dubuc says that the snowshoes are popular with scouting and school groups.
Patrons can also borrow accessories for tennis, road hockey, and pickleball (a paddleball sport that draws on tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton). At the makerspace, the central-branch workshop that opened in 2015, there’s a vinyl cutter, 3-D printers, sewing machines, and a press for creating graphic tees.
As libraries adapt to changing demographics and demands, many have expanded their services to keep them fresh and relevant. “While these things may seem unusual to traditionalists, it’s actually just part of our natural evolution to support learning in all its forms,” says Ab Velasco, manager of innovation at the Toronto Public Library. “Libraries have evolved based on how information-media changes and how to address the complex and different ways that people learn.”
Dubuc says that his library’s object-lending programming relates to a core mandate of libraries — to be community hubs. “Because as much as we are doing these things to stay relevant,” Dubuc says, “we're trying to mesh both worlds, and we're still keeping our core values.”
In Sudbury, it hasn’t just been the library and its users who’ve driven these changes. Dubuc credits local businesses and organizations with helping to get new services off the ground. “These are partnerships that we're always looking for,” he says.
The snowshoe program came about after the Laurentian Athletics Club and local non-profit the Rainbow Routes Association donated the winter footwear. Daniel Barrette, the Rainbow Routes Association’s executive director, says the snowshoes had been a part of a discontinued program. “In this case, it just made sense to donate the equipment that was purchased for the [discontinued] programming to the library so that they can make a better use of it in the community.”
The tackle program, part of a larger effort by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, gets local support from Ramakko’s, an outdoors store. Owner Brian Ramakko says that his shop had been running the local program before the library approached them and that he was happy to help. “We've always tried to partner with community, especially groups that need help,” says Ramakko. “We thought, and still think, that any type of program where people need help to get started is worth it.”
By making such activities more accessible, Dubuc says, the library will help more people experience northern Ontario’s outdoors. He recalls a family from out of the country that borrowed snowshoes to make a tour of the city: “The other great thing, too, is that you look at, for example, newcomers who just recently moved from another country. How cool is it to have all this stuff for them to just come and check out for free?”
For Dubuc, the library’s efforts speak to the future of libraries more generally. “As trends change from generation to generation, and interests change … there's always going to be a need for something,” he says. “If the libraries can be there to supply that something to the community, then we are always going to have our place to be able to help out the community as best as we can.”
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northeastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Laurentian University.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.