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  • Writer's pictureColleen Murray

EPL's Heritage Collection is circulating!

Library books

Edmonton Public Library kept their best genealogy books in what was called the Heritage Room of the downtown Stanley Milner library. These books did not circulate, and were not to be removed from the room. It was frustrating to visit the Milner library, pay for parking, and to try to read an important book all in one sitting. But- it was better than no access at all.

Then in January of 2017, massive renovations began on the Milner library. The Heritage Collection was culled of some of its material, with the books being sold during one of EPL's regular sales. What remained was put into storage. When needing access to a Heritage Collection book, a patron had to phone the library in advance by a day or so, and ask them to locate the book, and then visit the small Enterprise Square location of the library in order to view the book. The last time I did this, I could not even find a chair, and was stuck trying to read the non-circulating book while standing in one of the book stacks. It was not ideal, to say the least, although I was still grateful to get access to a book I could find nowhere else.

Fast forward to 2018, when I was working on a presentation, and was trying to get a book on the Palatine Irish. I found the book in the EPL online catalogue. I was sure it was going to be a Heritage Collection book, and hence I was not really going to have access (I could not read a book of this size standing in the stacks!) To my great surprise, I was able to put the book on hold and have it sent to my local branch. When I received the email saying the book was ready to be picked up, I was sure there would be a catch- surely I wouldn't be allowed to remove it from my home branch! But- I was able to check it out! I quickly went home and put two more books on the Irish Palatines on reserve.

I am happy to say that I was able to actually read these books over several days, at my leisure, and I learned a great deal about the Palatines as a result.

The Stanley Milner library is slated to re-open in 2020. I don't know if the Heritage Collection will continue to circulate up to that point, but then revert to a non-circulating collection or not. But I am thrilled to be able to check these books out in the meantime, and actually get a chance to read them!

This begs the question: what is the point of a non-circulating collection? One reason could be that books may be rare or fragile, and thus deemed unsafe to circulate. I would argue that this is not the case for the vast majority of the books in this collection. Another argument could be that by not circulating the collection, they are more accessible to everyone, because they will always be in stock when you go to visit the library. I would argue, however, that because they don't circulate, they are less accessible. Who has time to read an entire volume in one library visit, as the parking meter ticks on? I am much more likely to absorb and use the information in the Heritage Collection if they circulate, and I can read them more carefully, at my leisure. If access is a concern, the library could consider a shorter loan period for Heritage Collection books.

But I do hope that when the Milner library reopens, that they consider continuing this experiment, and allowing the Heritage Collection to circulate. I for one would consider it a huge upgrade in service.

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