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It’s All About Location for Successful Libraries

by on December 27, 2012

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Central Branch of the Saint John Free Public Library (SJFPL). This library system – which serves the Province of New Brunswick – has the distinction of being Canada’s very first free public library. Established in 1883, the Saint John Free Public Library and its three locations circulate approximately 300,000 items among its nearly 45,000 library card holders during a typical year.

What I find particularly interesting about the Central Branch of the Saint John Library is its location.  Open since 1983, this branch is situated in Market Square, a large retail complex at the heart of the city.  Overlooking the historic waterfront of Saint John, Market Square is a destination that offers a diversity of options for visitors. Retail, cuisine, culture, and entertainment venues are primarily the focus for the Market Square experience. Shops and restaurants that appeal to the local customer base and to vacation and business travelers all exist at this one, convenient spot.

I am still struck by the fact that this is not just another shopping mall, like so much of what is seen here in the United States. Market Square is also home to the New Brunswick Museum, the Saint John Convention Centre, a Hilton Hotel, several business tenants, and of course the Saint John Library.  Not surprisingly, this well-conceived public space sees typical weekly pedestrian traffic of over 20,000 people.

As I wandered the stacks of this library, it occurred to me that a large part of the success of this particular branch was due to its prime location. In my travels prior to this visit, I had never come across a library at a mall before, but apparently this is commonplace in Canada. As it happens, all of the three locations of the Saint John Free Public Library are located at retail shopping malls. The system’s West Branch was the first mall library in the Canadian maritime provinces, opening in the Lancaster Mall back in 1967; its East Branch is part of the Westmorland Place shopping center.

Here in the states however, I have seen a number of other library locations and building partnerships that also serve to draw people in. Here in Maryland, we frequently have libraries co-located with senior centers or recreation facilities. These types of pairings help to offer local citizens a convenient “one-stop-shop” experience. For instance, folks can visit the library first, pick up an audio book, and then go next door to a gym at the recreation center to get in their daily work-out.

There are other location partners that can also lead to enhanced opportunities for learning. Not far from my home, the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) is putting the finishing touches on its Owings Mills branch. This 35,000 square foot library will be part of a shared building with the Community College of Baltimore County. The overall site itself is also well situated, as it will serve as the anchor building for a much larger transit oriented development project, located adjacent to the Owings Mills station of Baltimore’s subway line. Given these factors, I can envision that Owings Mills will certainly become one of the busiest branches in the nineteen-branch BCPL system.

We can all learn something from innovative libraries like the Saint John Free Public Library. Clearly, the best way to serve the public is to meet them where they are, be it a community college campus or even a shopping mall full of hustle and bustle.


  1. 2010 – 2011 Annual Report –Saint John Free Public Library.