There weren’t enough chairs in the bar so they had to get more from the public library.
The Salmo Public Library had organized a (pre-pandemic) trivia night in the bar across the street. This is the kind of outside-the-box thinking — ideas that extend the library’s reach into unexpected parts of the community — that the library’s director Taylor Caron is known for.
“We had about 70 people come to the bar,” she says. “We were hauling chairs from the library over to the bar for this trivia night, and people loved it so much. It was such a great night.”
This year, after 10 years in the job, Caron won the annual award of excellence from the Association of BC Public Library Directors.
The award is presented each year for for excellence in library advocacy, innovation, and contribution to their library community.
“What makes the award particularly special is that it represents the recognition of your peers — other library directors in B.C.,” said the Salmo library’s board chair Valene Foster in a news release. “Taylor is one of a very few from a small public library to win this award.”
Caron told the Nelson Star that when the announcement was made, she was not aware she had been nominated.
“I had been having an overwhelming day. It caught me totally off guard. I burst into tears.”
She said she was particularly gratified to see a small rural library recognized.
“A lot of the recognitions have gone to larger library directors … like Vancouver Public Library or Fraser Valley or Greater Victoria library systems,” Caron said. “Their directors are actually called the CEO. It’s a very different thing, but in the end with the same core intentions at heart.”
Her nominator, Creston Pubic Library director Saara Itkonen, who has also worked for the Vancouver Public Library, says unlike big city libraries the work of a rural library director is hands-on at every level of the operation and the community.
Her nomination document contains a long list of Caron’s community connections and innovative programs including a significant building renovation.
“She has overseen a major renovation, doubling the space of the library and, increasing the value of one of Salmo’s premier heritage buildings. It truly has become a community hub and fully 50 per cent of the area’s population hold active library cards.”
Running a rural library often means inadequate funding.
“As a rural library director it is particularly astonishing how much Taylor manages to accomplish on a part-time salary and an ever-diminishing operating budget,” Itkonen’s nomination document said. “This year alone, Taylor has had to make the difficult decision of slashing her book budget so her staff can have modest pay increases.”
The Salmo library has three part-time staff including Caron, and 15 volunteers who are not at work now during the pandemic.
“Taylor talks about how she used some of her program money just to put together snacks for kids after school because of food insecurity in our community,” Itkonen said. “These are kids that are probably coming to hang out at the library after school because they don’t have anywhere else to go until their parents get off work. And she’s feeding them.”
Because of the pandemic, Caron does not see those kids any more, “and that’s really hard,” she says.
As in most libraries, the pandemic has seen the library find new ways of reaching the community. Caron talks fondly of the knitting group that moved from in-person to online.
“The woman who hosts it downstairs, I’ve got a camera on her hands and on her face, and I still have the audio on in my office, and I can just hear them chitter-chattering and talking, and it’s not the same as when they used to come into the library, but it’s still just as lovely to know that we’re providing a space where people can come together.”
Asked what she likes most about being a librarian, Caron says it’s the service to the community.
“It’s the little kids coming to my office door and telling me about the book they read, or all the books they’re checking out. It’s the older man that comes in, and I know it’s the only real social connection he has. And he stops in my office store and I talk with him. My office door is very accessible to everybody.”
Caron says her ambition has been to make the library a “third place” — that’s an urban design term meaning not your house, not your job, but a third place you just like to hang out.
“Libraries are one of the last interior spaces you can go,” Caron says, “where there’s no expectations of you, you don’t have to pay, you don’t have to take anything out, you don’t have to be there if you don’t want to, but you can go there to feel included. It’s like a community living room.”