A visit to your local library might have you bringing home more than books and a couple of magazines. Lately, you’re just as likely to carry out a yoga mat, a nature scavenger hunt kit, or even a canoe! In a twist on literacy, public libraries are updating their collections and encouraging physical literacy through creative equipment lending programs.
While libraries have always provided access to knowledge and encouraged reading, they’re also becoming key community resources for recreation. Through new initiatives and creative programs, libraries are supporting movement and exploration, providing opportunities for free play, and connecting people of all ages and abilities with nature and the outdoors.
Updated programs and collections
Nowadays, public libraries are where you can participate in a mom-and-baby yoga class, join a library-sponsored walking or running club, or kick up your heels to the tango. But did you know that more and more libraries are encouraging members to get outside of the library walls by lending out sports and recreation equipment such as park passes, soccer balls, and golf clubs?
If sports and recreation equipment is out of your budget (and it is for many of us), borrow some from the library—for free—and try it out for a day or a week! Lending libraries give us access to a much wider variety of goods than we could ever own or have the room to store.
At the Fraser Valley Regional Library in British Columbia, users can borrow a bird-watching backpack with binoculars, or take out a telescope for an evening of stargazing.
Each branch of the Clearview Public Library in Ontario has pedometers as well as Family Active Living Kits filled with items such as a play parachute, bowling games, and a rubber chicken (!). And if you’re visiting one of Ontario’s beautiful provincial parks you can borrow a day-use permit and parking coupon.
Want to try out skates, borrow a baseball mitt for a pickup game with friends, or bring home an eight-foot kayak? Library members at Augusta Township Public Library in Brockville, Ont., can do all that and more.
Libraries are filling a growing need
Active for Life spoke with Noah Lenstra, assistant professor of library and information science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and director of Let’s Move in Libraries—an international initiative to get people of all ages and abilities moving.
Lenstra notes how a 2018 study by the American Library Association found that more voters (than in 2008) described the library as a place that “offers activities and entertainment you can’t find anywhere else in the community.” And in 2017, 59 percent of public libraries in Ontario reported having non-traditional circulating library collections (like fishing gear, recreation equipment, musical instruments, and seed gardens).
“My interpretation of this data is that public libraries today increasingly serve as community hubs that pull people together and give people access to things that they need and want, whether it be reading material or sports equipment,” says Lenstra.
“The implications for public libraries seem pretty obvious to me. As an institution in virtually every community in the U.S. and Canada, who could be better positioned to help out in answering this call to action increasingly vocalized by policy makers?”
How do the programs work?
Asked about his favourite lending program, Lenstra says: “My favorite sharing has to be bicycles! I love the idea of public libraries getting involved in community bike shares, like they’re doing at Annapolis Valley Regional Library (AVRL) in Nova Scotia.” In addition to its BookBike program, AVRL is making being active easier for families and kids with its “Be Fit” Physical Literacy Kits.
At AVRL, each kit is loaned out for three weeks, just like a book, and contains balls, scarves, frisbees, and more. New themed kits focus on one skill or activity and include dance, parachute, run, throw, and yoga.
Angela Reynolds, community engagement coordinator at the library, notes that families love the kits and they’re being used for birthday parties, camping trips, and field days at schools.
Like everything else in the library, borrowing equipment is free! But there are certain rules patrons need to follow, and they differ at each library.
Some libraries allow holds and renewals, others require a deposit for items worth over a certain amount, while some need a signed waiver or parental permission for kids under 18. Make sure to check all pieces for damage when you return items.
How can your library develop a resource-lending program?
Coordinate with other municipal departments such as parks and recreation or public works, and build community partnerships with local businesses and regional and provincial parks.
The Lethbridge Public Library received advice from a kinesiology professor and used the services of an applied studies student from the University of Lethbridge who helped the library source the items, then organize and assemble, and promote the collection in the community.
Lenstra’s advice includes building collaborations and maintaining community partnerships for equipment lending.
“Making sure there are regular check-ins, at least on a quarterly basis, and possibly even a memorandum of understanding can help everyone know their roles and keep folks connected. I think maintaining communications is key!”
Contact local sports stores, government health departments, national parks, and residents of the community who are passionate about providing nature and physical literacy to people of all ages and abilities.
Resources that can help in getting your own lending library started included the books Get Your Community Moving: Physical Literacy Programs for All Ages by Jenn Carson and Healthy Living at the Library by Noah Lenstra, and the resource pages of Let’s Move in Libraries.
Curious how other Canadian libraries are encouraging healthy living and physical literacy?
These are just some of the programs being offered across the country. Is your library doing something similar? Let us know in the comments below!
A bike-lending program is getting residents and visitors active in Redcliff, Alta. Bicycles, helmets, and locks are available to people who have a valid library card from anywhere in the province.
The High River Library Gadgets to Go collection offers badminton racquets, binoculars, fitness and yoga kits, and a family pass for the Bob Snodgrass Recreation Complex.
Despite pandemic restrictions, users of the Cochrane Public Library can still borrow camping equipment, telescopes, gardening tools, life jackets, and even a ghost hunting kit.
The Pinawa Public Library equipment includes walking poles and pedometers that can be borrowed for three weeks at a time.
Thanks to a collaboration with Loisirs et Sports Outaouais, all member libraries of the Réseau BIBLIO de l’Outaouais offer binoculars as well as guides on birds, trees, flowers, and animals.
In Montreal, four city libraries recently started offering sleds, crampons, snowshoes, and walking poles for outdoor adventures all winter.
The Township of Alfred and Plantagenet public libraries offer a huge selection of sports equipment, from fat bikes to soccer balls!
During the pandemic, the 33 physical and one virtual branch of the Ottawa Public Library donated an additional 30 park passes to encourage outdoor activities.
Prince Edward Island
PEI Public Library Services lends out telescopes, sensory kits, snowshoes, yoga mats, play kits, and fitness kits.
At the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, users can borrow Play Pack Kits with books and play equipment or Adventure Daypacks with items for birdwatching, hiking, exploring nature, and tons more.
This past winter, residents could enjoy time outdoors by borrowing adult and child-sized snowshoes from the Nackawic Public – School Library.
Read more about libraries and resources for active living:
This library is an indoor and outdoor active living space
Active for Life podcast: Noah Lenstra on active living in libraries