Embracing technology in the public library space, featuring Richmond Public Library


The library

Some public libraries have been slow to adopt new technology. Around the world, they’ve hesitated to embrace technology partners that appear to flip the traditional library model on its head.

Richmond Public Library (RPL) isn’t one of those.

In Richmond, a city of 200,000 just south of Vancouver, RPL is a leader in the digital space for Canadian libraries. As one of the first public libraries in the country to offer internet access and loan e-readers to its patrons, it’s no surprise that RPL has been able to adapt to changes in reader behavior and attitude.

Great. But how? How has RPL succeeded in growing digitally without sacrificing its core operations? And what can other libraries learn from what they’ve done?


The challenge

To keep up with ever-changing patron expectations using leading technology that actually improves their library experience without breaking the budget.

As technology continues to evolve more quickly, it can be hard for libraries to provide access to material and services in the way patrons expect.

Ping He, Head of Information Services at RPL said, “expectations for faster and more convenience service everywhere drove a need for change in the library.”

The average patron is used to expedient, automatic, personalized, digital service in all areas of their life. It stands to reason that they expect the same from their library. And when those expectations aren’t met, the perceived value of the library can shrink.

In order to stay relevant and solidify its position as a hub for community activity and knowledge, Ping said the library “had to find new ways to meet the higher expectations of people.” And they had to do it on a tight public-service budget.

Easy, right?


The solution

Using smart, sustainable digital tools.

Here are just a few of them:

    • New databases: Easier access to information and a more engaging patron experience.
    • Open-source software:Allows the library to offer their patrons new educational tools at little to no cost.
    • Email service:RPL uses Ask Us through RefTracker as a direct line of communication to their patrons, which makes it easy for them to answer questions on the platform in addition to phone and in-person service points.
    • Digital newspapers and magazines: With a little help from PressReader, RPL patrons and staff get access to over 7,000 of the world’s premium newspapers and magazines. This eliminates the need for single-title subscriptions and opens up a world of possibilities, choice, and personalization.

“People have much greater access to the full content of daily newspapers with the arrival of PressReader. We used to purchase a few copies of certain newspapers, but now with PressReader, more people can access the same newspapers at the same time,” said Stephanie Vokey, Coordinator of Marketing and Public Relations.


Giving patrons choice and diversity

Inclusivity is crucial to the library, too. Vancouver is known for being a multicultural city with a high immigrant population, and Richmond Public Library’s patrons are no exception. They come from all over, and so does the content they read on PressReader.

“For newcomers, accessing newspapers from their own country of origin or in their own language is important. The other thing is the translation and audio features. Not only is this convenient, it can help some people learn new languages. It’s a way to learn a new language while reading the current news,” explains Stephanie.  

With access to newspapers from home and the ability to translate, patrons get an interactive experience with their content. It’s more than just the ability to read what they want, when they want, but it’s a way to make them feel comfortable and welcomed. It’s a way to create a safe, inclusive space.

The flexibility and simplicity of PressReader allows every patron to personalize their own experience.

“[PressReader] allows users to choose their own level of engagement,” Ping said, ”whether they simply want to read the papers or take advantage of features such as translation, printing, audio and social media sharing.”

One of the pillars of RPL’s values is that the library is stronger through engaging all ages, backgrounds, and cultures. So it’s essential to offer features for every member of the community: students, casual readers, and seniors.

Ping explained that

PressReader is a very well-used resource. Our customers can enjoy digital newspapers exactly as they appear in print, with color, photographs, ads and crossword puzzles. We used to only have black and white text-based databases, which are boring and meant for research. But PressReader can appeal to readers of popular materials, not just to students doing academic research. So it changes the use of digital resources. That’s why PressReader is so popular. It attracts more people in the community.”

There’s something for everyone.



As library patrons are starting to behave more like customers, they expect on-demand access to digital resources. They want the flexibility of reading wherever, whenever. That’s a level of freedom PressReader is able to offer with both on-site and off-site access.

Remote access is so important. So many people can enjoy a newspaper in their own home not just in the library.”

With remote access, patrons are able to pick up exactly where they left off. It invites them to come into the library to download content, get comfortable, and stay a while. But when they’re ready to go, they know they won’t be left hanging. So whether they find a cool magazine on their way out or want to finish up an article on the way home, they can carry that content with them right on their own device.


Connecting communities

 “We connect people to each other. We connect people to information and we connect them to technology,” Stephanie said.

As community connectors, RPL utilizes technology to engage their patrons. They have a number of social media platforms to create conversations. They use tech tools like Meetup to foster an online community, and send out a monthly newsletter so subscribers know about upcoming events at the library. These are just a few ways RPL keeps the relationship alive between visits.

And it seems to be working. Their library is home to a massive range of clubs – from book clubs and homework clubs, to Dungeons and Dragons groups. 

“I don’t think the physical space of a library is going to diminish in value any time soon,” said Stephanie, “I’m often amazed. The variety of things that people are doing here once they’ve walked through the doors is mind boggling.”


Richmond Public Library is creating a space that’s about more than just coming in, looking for a book, and leaving. Above all, they’re fostering a space where the community feels safe. They feel welcomed. They feel warm. And they have access to information at their fingertips.


To learn about how you can bring digital amenities to your library, talk to sales 



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