Edmonton Public Library


On a relaxed Sunday afternoon, I trace my fingers over the book spines filling the “Holds” section. I pull out a thick copy of Dracula, slide the barcode through the automatic check-out station, and plop into a cushy red chair, satisfied. Why should a university student buy assigned reading when she can borrow it? Beside me, an elderly man flips through a newspaper, and somewhere just out of sight the pattering of keys indicates the presence of a computer user.

The scene is so quiet, so familiar, that I nearly forget I’m participating in an immense, complex institution: the Edmonton Public Library. I'm comfortably reclined in one of twenty fully-stocked branches, each offering a full collection of books, movies, videogames, and comics. Beyond the buildings are massive digital databases of electronic material--magazines, streaming music, elearning. And, of course, the material is only one small slice of library, which is always hosting programs, computer services, book clubs, speakers, awards, and special events. Undoubtedly, the library has integrated itself into heart of the city and its residents.

According to EPL’s website, more than 240 000 Edmontonians regularly use the library’s services. The extensive influence of the library makes it difficult to grasp the impact it has on reading practices and impossible to comprehensively explain its effects on the city. Rather than struggling to detail every aspect of the library, my research is a collection of notable snapshots of EPL’s workings and impacts, gathered through attending events, such as the Graffiti Open House, and considering some of the library’s inner mechanisms, like the process of collecting and dispensing materials. This research is primarily print-focused, as per the mandate of this project, but the library readily embraces digitality. In the future, investigating the interactions between print and emerging computerized resources would provide another valuable layer to this narrative.



On a relaxed Sunday afternoon, I trace my fingers over the book spines filling the “Holds” section. I pull out...