Community Collaboration in Action

My last session on Thursday on OLA 2011 was quite an eye-opener. Newmarket Public Library ( helped launch a community economic development program called SDI – Shared Digital Infrastructure ( The theme of SDI is “community – knowledge – empowerment” which captures the vision of building a new media-based economy in Newmarket, in response to a decline in the manufacturing sector.

The two speakers were from the Newmarket library board, and the project they helped launch was rushed because of the short timeframe required with the federal grant they received (a “Community Adjustment Fund”— The grant money has run out, but with the support of the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce, the SDI initiative continues.

At the start of the project, the Newmarket Public Library developed close ties with other stakeholders. The library joined the Chamber of Commerce, and attended monthly breakfast meetings. Monthly meetings were held with the mayor and CAO. Communication lines were opened up with the CEO of the hospital. Another partner was Newmarket Hydro, and the school board became involved.

Support of the library board was seen as key to the success of the project.

The key motivator was a realization that collaboration will allow libraries to survive and prosper.

The goal for the federal grant was to create economic development opportunities for the community. Information technology investments are expensive, complicated and time-consuming, but are driven by a momentum of change. The possibility of sharing digital and new media infrastructure was explored. Ultimately, the investments would spark the development of a knowledge sector in the community.

The grant was 2.1 million dollars, and the total project budget was 2.6 million dollars. Originally the plan was to complete the project over 12 months with 21 people, but the timeframe was shortened to just five months. The schedule was overhauled in a week, and the project was launched (at the time the Newmarket Public Library did not even have a CEO).

The changes and investments at the Newmarket Public Library included:

  • An Integrated Library Management System
  • Introduction of a Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) tagging system
  • Development of an Integrated Community Messaging System (ICMS)
  • Establishment of a Video conferencing facility
  • Digitization of the Newmarket Era-Banner newspapers and Bowman Art Collection
  • Upgrades to the network infrastructure
  • A redesigned Library website and E-commerce functionality
  • Bolstering of the Pathfinders Employment Program
  • Development of a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan

The digitization project became a rescue mission for a deteriorating microfilm collection (this generated a lot of interest at the OLA session). Scanned images were made accessible online, and stored on a terabyte server. The library participated in Our Ontario ( with its digital newspaper project. The newspaper project was also uploaded to because of concerns about the long-term viability of Knowledge Ontario, of which Our Ontario is a part.

The library also created a digital art collection and worked on a collection of Quaker materials which was not archived properly. Belinda Stronach ( gave a donation to the library to digitize her records, and the library viewed this as an example of a revenue stream that could ensue with digitization projects.

The Newmarket Public Library’s digitization work supports the municipality’s cultural master plan.

The successful RFID project at the library caught the interest of the hospital, which was seeking to organize its library for professional staff. The library is looking at extending its circulation system to support the hospital.

Additional technology acquired included a 40 inch high definition screen in the board room. The equipment supports video-conferencing, webcasts, and webinars, and is also considered a potential source of revenue. Documents imagers and digital panels were also acquired.

The library participated in bki (Business Knowledge Initiative,, a business support program that has already helped over 100 companies in Newmarket keep up to date in technology. Many of these small enterprises do not have IT staff. Check out the Twitter feed at

The Business Knowledge Initiative addressed a pressing need in the community, and it was a chief reason why SDI continued to be supported by the Chamber of Commerce after the federal grant ended. Small- and medium-sized enterprises in Canada are lagging behind others in the world. The bki addresses gaps—it doesn’t duplicate what’s already available. The Business Knowledge Initiative exists in an environment where so much technological change is happening that much effort is needed in making sense of it. That’s where the case can be made for the collaborative efforts the library is involved with.

The Newmarket Public Library, with the SDI project, participated in the city’s strategic planning. SDI is an enabling foundation for the knowledge sector in Newmarket. The goal is to create a knowledge-rich environment—“community, powered by knowledge.”

collaboration + innovation = opportunities

community + opportunities = prosperity

The SDI project has a real impact on the development of the community, and the speakers at the OLA session reported that Newmarket City Council now gets it and sees the library in a new light. The project is a catalyst for community transformation.

New opportunities have already appeared. For example, the RFID tagging at the library was sped up with the new partnerships created.

At a Canada 3.0 conference held in Stratford in 2009 (and now ongoing, Canada’s “moonshot” was announced:

anyone can do anything online in Canada by 2017.

Canada was a leader twenty years ago, and the challenge is to regain the leadership in the digital economy.

In Newmarket, the library is in the lead, seeking out mutual benefits and multiple levels of engagement. The stakeholders are being brought together at the table. For the SDI project, a dedicated Project Management Office was created (independent of the library and the City). This Office was set up with clear roles and responsibilities, and with high standards of transparency. The Office co-ordinates collaborative online workshops.

The speakers at this OLA session talked about how the library was perceived as a kind of Switzerland—a neutral, trusted participant, where agendas are parked at the door.

The challenges which are still in front of this initiative:

– the manufacturing sector is declining

– only 6% of SMEs (small/medium enterprises) use e-commerce

– new media has great momentum and the highest economic growth potential (second only to the oilsands in Canada)

– Newmarket needs to develop a digital media sector

– City Council always needs to be educated, and there are usually new councillors every four years

– Newmarket is a growing community, and it’s a challenge to have these collaborative initiatives compete with funding requirements for infrastructure like water and sewer (which always take priority)

Newmarket Public Library and its partners are looking at where to take the initiative next. There are plans to expand the digitization lab, to create a medical simulation and training lab, to create shared data analytics (such as GIS—geographic information systems), and integrating the library system with the hospital library.

An intelligent community master plan is being looked at, with many challenges ahead in learning how to build knowledge in an intelligent community.

For the library specifically, the challenge is to get people to see the library in a new light—to redefine its advantages and resources.

The initial project has wrapped up with the end of funding, but the momentum continues and the partnerships have been built. The mayor of Newmarket called the library its “skunkworks’”—where great ideas are being tried out and where the library is seen as a leader for the city.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s