Jane Hermanson doesn’t fit the librarian cliché. For one, she doesn’t shush you when you walk in the door of the Tagish Community Library. In fact, when she asks how you’re doing, her voice is loud and clear and sounds like maybe she’s never shushed in her life. It’s possible she’s even incapable of it. She definitely doesn’t encourage it.
“You’ve heard it before, how libraries are changing now,” she says. “The space is used as more of a place for people to gather and talk. It’s social.”
That’s not the only thing that’s changed in the 21 years Harmanson has been the librarian in Tagish.
“There was hardly insulation in any of it, the whole building,” says Leslie Barnes, talking about the early days of the small building that houses the library, tacked on to the back of the Tagish Community Centre. Barnes is on the library’s five-person board of directors. She and Hermanson sit across from each other, among the books, on a drizzly September Thursday — one of three days the library is open each week.
When the library was established in the 1980s, it was a volunteer effort, largely managed by the late Sybil Brittin. Years later, when it became part of Yukon Libraries, it had access to funding for increased hours, insulation (but no running water — the library washroom is an outhouse out back), training, computers and, eventually, circulation.
“I remember when (circulation) came in. I was so terrified,” Hermanson says of the systems around lending. Up to that point, patrons had signed books out on the honour system, or by writing their names and dates on the cards slipped into envelopes inside book covers.“I was so afraid and, like, horrified that they were going to change this.”
Hermanson rolled with it, though. She still does. In fact, she has to pause while she talks to take a phone call about Koha, an even newer circulation system Yukon Libraries started using in August of this year. She’s better at handling that kind of change now, she says. Still, she keeps her very first library card, to Vancouver Public Libraries, dated December 1968, taped up at her desk so she can show kids how it used to be. They come in for different reasons now than Hermanson did back when she was signing her name “Janie” in nervous first-grader handwriting.
That was especially prevalent during COVID, says Barnes. She says there’s nothing else in Tagish — no gas station and no store. During the pandemic, the community centre was closed. The library remained open because it was categorized as an essential service. It’s cozy, with its books and blankets and $1 coffee and stuffed chairs. And it’s safe, with a naloxone kit Hermanson has never had to use and drug-testing strips she has. Barnes says it was like a mental wellness gathering space in those years.
“It still is in a lot of ways,” says Hermanson. “People come in and talk about whatever. Over the years, I’ve had teenagers that come in here. They don’t want a book. They want to sit here and talk to me about things that maybe they can’t tell their mom or dad.”
Hermanson pulls photocopied pictures out of her drawer, of herself reading to kids who now have kids of their own. It’s a weird feeling, she says, to have been here that long. Long enough for multiple generations to have come through the doors and for computers to have come into fashion and, in terms of libraries, out again.
She points at the back wall of the library. There are a couple of computer stations. Hermanson wants to get rid of them. People used to use them more often, she says. Seniors, especially, would come in. But now, many of them have their own. They might come in to print things off, because printing is free, but the computers don’t get used much anymore.
“I would like to have one computer and get a couch,” she says. “That’s the way the library is going. It’s changing, and we need to change to keep up with that.”
It’s one of the reasons she welcomes kids playing online games outside rather than coming in and getting an armload of books like she used to. It’s not 1968 anymore. You can’t make people use something the way it was used 60 years ago. Not when their world and their needs have changed this much. The library is more of a social hub now.
It’s part of why more than 100 people signed a petition a few years ago to fund an additional five hours a week, so the library could open for a third day. Everyone uses it, Barnes says.
Author events and readings are well-attended. When writer Lawrence Hill visited years ago, the reading spilled into the community centre because the library couldn’t hold everyone who showed up. Sometimes, people even invite the writers over for dinner, because there’s nowhere else to get a meal in town.
Local artists sell their work on the tables between the books and donate part of the proceeds to the library. There’s a jar of perpetually refilled candy on Hermanson’s desk. It’s funded by the donations of a local whose recycling Barnes takes care of. Even the library’s merchandise was a community effort. T-shirts and tank tops hang from the ceiling, featuring a logo-and-slogan combo from a local mother-daughter team.
“Tagish Community Library,” says the crest on the shirts. Beneath the words is a child’s sketch of a smug-looking fish jigging a book in the water above an unsuspecting human. “Get hooked on books.”
The logo is one thing they’re not planning to change, even if books aren’t necessarily the main draw anymore.
The little kids still take out books, says Barnes. The older kids take out movies. The teenagers come by to use the wi-fi to watch movies on phones in their cars, or to hang out on the library porch, playing Minecraft.
Barnes and Hermanson are divided on whether there should be more gaming at the library. Barnes thinks not. Hermanson pushes back, shushing without silence. Shushing by talking louder and Barnes agrees.
“Maybe that should change at libraries because why not?” Hermanson says. “It’s a new generation. You have to go with what are people wanting? You can’t just stay in old times because you’re old. And that’s what libraries need to keep doing, is changing with the times. You can’t stay stagnant.”
By Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 03, 2023 at 16:07