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The ideaLAB & Library Hub, Innisfil

September 4, 2018 • 16 min read

Background | Hub Partners | The Vision | The Journey | Benefits & Value Added | Lessons Learned & Advice

IdeaLab event


Libraries are changing.  This case study explores the transition of the Lakeshore Branch of the Innisfil Public Library into an innovative and exciting community hub which was the catalyst of a system-wide name change that reflects its fresh focus – ideaLAB & Library in 2016.

A 2015 renovation to the Lakeshore Branch of the Innisfil Public Library nearly doubled the size to about 21,000 square feet and transformed the branch into a hub offering different activities, opportunities and equipment to the local community.  The hub includes a Media Lab, a Hack Lab with access to 3D printing, and vinyl and laser cutting equipment.

The space also contains indoor and outdoor presentation podiums, a reading garden, meeting and activity space that is used for library programs and is available to community groups and organizations, a grand piano for visitors to play, and a ping-pong table in the garden.

“The Library is committed to being a Community Hub, meeting a variety of needs within the municipality. The Library is a central point for residents to access educational, social, cultural and community services. Our partnerships with various municipal departments, as well as other agencies and organizations in the community, enable us to better serve our residents.“

Staff Report LIB-10-2015 to the Innisfil Public Library Board, September 21, 2015

Hub Partners

The Hub Lead

Innisfil Public Library – is the public library service provider in the Town of Innisfil. There are four branches in the system – Lakeshore, Cookstown, Churchill and Stroud.  The library system is governed by a Library Board that is appointed by the Town of Innisfil.  This case study focuses on the Lakeshore branch hub, however, some of the systems changes have had hub-like implications for the other branches.

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The Vision

The vision for the ideaLAB & Library Hub is focused on the changing roles and relationships that libraries can have with their communities. According to Susan Downs, Chief Librarian and CEO, the vision grew from multiple sources including a strategic plan which was willing to experiment, be innovative and support ideas such as “a hacker LAB”.

Downs explained that the Library avoided being constrained by one definition of hub and instead decided that it should “be relevant to community needs and desires.” The system that evolved is community-focused with a high degree of interaction and engagement and is a place where library staff and residents work together to find answers to questions and challenges. The Town of Innisfil Budget for 2017/18 describes it as a “centre for literacy, culture and innovation” with attention to four areas:  programs, information services, community development and culture and heritage.

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The Journey

This section highlights interesting or unique elements of the journey to develop and operate the hub, rather than a comprehensive, beginning to end, story.

Library exterior

Planning for the Hub

The vision of the Lakeshore Branch as a community Hub and gathering space evolved incrementally and was influenced by a number of factors.

The Chair of the Library Board, CEO and other staff visited libraries in Europe in 2012/13 to learn how they were serving their local communities. They were so committed to learning from others that they paid their own way for the study tour!  This, and other research, helped them begin to develop a strategic direction for the library system in Innisfil that featured different ways to expose the community to exciting ideas and encourages exploration of new endeavors. Technology was a key element of that direction.

The Board Chair, Anne Kell, reflected that “as awareness grew of community interest and need, the library tried to add the program or find someone to offer the program”.  A transformation was happening in parallel with the planning work for the new addition and a Digital Media LAB and the first 3D printer were in place before it opened.

Once there was approval in principle to expand the Lakeshore branch, the Library engaged the community in the design for the renovated building.  There were design charrettes and consultations where local residents provided advice and input to the library. Children built models out of Lego, and others were recorded talking about what they wanted in the new building.

The 2015 addition allowed the branch to expand, offer new services and supports and also to connect with more community members and groups as part of that process. The recent decision to change the name of the library to Innisfil ideaLAB & Library strengthened the relationship with technology and the role that the library is playing in supporting residents to access and learn through technology.  “There was no question of the Library Board not supporting the change in focus to a hub, the library was already a hub” explained Kell, the Chair of the Library Board.


The Public Libraries Act (Ontario) requires that public library boards, established under municipal by-law, manage and direct the library function based on common municipal-library goals.  In addition to the appointed members, there are two elected members of Innisfil Council on the Library Board.

The funding process for Innisfil Library requires the approval of both the Library Board and the Town of Innisfil Council.  The process began with the purchase of a site behind the library and included a $7 million addition and renovation to the existing library.  The Library Board discussed the proposal and voted in support of the project.  The next step involved convincing the Council members of the need for the expanded space and the positive impact it would have on the community. Council approved funding for the project – most of which would come from development charge revenues and the remainder from property tax revenues.

Each year the Chair of the Library Board makes a presentation to the Innisfil Town Council that highlights the library’s accomplishments and goals for the coming year(s).  When the budget estimates are presented for approval later in the year, the Council is generally familiar with the library priorities and the discussion is informed by the presentation.

The Library does some limited fundraising for items that are extra to the approved budget and it receives donations from time to time.  It initially used funds from donations, including a $30,000 donation, provincial grants, and some money from their operating budget to purchase the technology and equipment needed in the Hack and Media labs.  The operating budget now includes an allocation for technology and equipment.



Leadership in the Library at the staff and board level has been key to the success of the hub.  The library is described as a ‘yes’ organization that works with community members to answer questions, resolve problems and investigate opportunities.  The culture of the organization supports innovation and engagement.

As a smaller municipality, there may be more flexibility and agility to innovate and partner than other larger municipalities with larger library systems.

Community Engagement

Over the past year, a cross-functional team of staff have been working on a community engagement framework with staff from the Tamarack Institute.  It is expected that this framework will guide how the library and the municipality engages with library users, businesses and residents.  There is no hub user committee, partner or advisory group to provide ongoing input and direction to the library regarding the hub.

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Benefits And Value Added

It is difficult to make a direct connection between successful experience with a hub in one location and a proposal to develop an additional hub, however it is likely that the positive experience at the ideaLAB & Library had some influence on a decision to support a proposal for a health hub. The Town of Innisfil recently entered into an agreement with the Barrie and Community Family Health team to support the development of a health hub that includes a walk-in clinic, urgent care centre, family medicine, pharmacy, laboratory services and physiotherapy.  It will have a wellness focus and will also include a community kitchen and other supports. Innisfil CAO Jason Reynar describes the health hub in this July 2017 video. Not surprisingly, the library is considering how it can support and promote this initiative and whether it can offer programming at the health hub location.

The ideaLAB & Library provides a place for local residents to pursue a range of initiatives.  Some have a business and local economic development focus, supporting for example, the development of entrepreneurial prototypes, while others bring together residents to pursue common interests and hobbies.  Read the 2015 article in the Innisfil Journal “Been to the Innisfil library lately?  Here’s 10 things you probably didn’t know you can do there.”

The founder of Innisfilm (a local film club) saw information promoting the HackLAB technologies at the library and decided to use the opportunity to make some coasters as a birthday present for a friend. When he saw an advertisement about a writing club in the branch, he decided to approach the staff about how they could help him with his passion – making films.  A group of people came together with support from the library and embarked on their first film project.  The group met in the library and used library equipment to film and edit the footage.  They have since incorporated as a nonprofit film club and received local funding to purchase film equipment.  They continue to meet at the library, use some of the equipment, and talk about their club and show their films at library events.

The library partners with the Simcoe County District School Board to build relationships between teachers and the library that enhances student learning.  The library has aligned their initiatives, where possible, to support school priorities and to integrate technology and resources for learning.  So far, they have designed and conducted training for teachers in technology including 3D printing with design thinking and how to use iPad apps with green screens.  The library has created online resources, participated in professional learning conducted by the school board and supported teachers to use technology in the curriculum.  Marci Duncan, a technology consultant at the School Board, recognized the library as “innovative, bringing the community into the schools, and building relationships between teachers and the library that supports the integration of technology and global competencies within literacy and numeracy programs”. As one would expect, the relationship benefits both the students and teachers, who were “huge fans” according to Duncan.  An important side benefit has been an increase in children coming to the library to use the space and the HackLAB equipment after school hours.

The Barrie Literacy Council uses space in the Hub to provide tutoring and support to local residents who often do not have transportation to access the Barrie-based services.  The YMCA has a Settlement worker at the library one afternoon a week to connect with newcomers and to ensure they can access the range of newcomer services provided by the YMCA and other service providers. Social Services are offered in the space to youth by a worker from Youth Haven in Barrie who visits the branch regularly as well.

The Library has developed a relationship with local businesses and residents through the Rotary Club which uses the space for its meetings. In return, volunteers dedicate their time to support the library and its community activities, because, according to Ken Simpson, the president of the Rotary Club, “the staff are a strength and the purpose, design and intentions of the vision of the library and it’s board definitely support the community hub framework.”

Finally, the ideaLAB & Library Hub connects the local community with municipal staff and councillors.  They host outreach activities, public meetings to explore issues and opportunities, and provide space for key town projects. They are able to contribute their awareness of community issues to the Town of Innisfil staff and promote stronger civic and community engagement.

Downs, the Chief Librarian and CEO, sums up the approach with the message that “libraries are now learning and collaborating with the public.  Members of the community may suggest a need for a new organization, program or activity, and the Library serves as a support system, facilitating the need for space, resources and access to connections”.

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Lessons Learned and Advice

Lesson 1

The library staff and board of directors developed an innovative and compelling future vision for their library based on research, discussions with and visits to libraries in other jurisdictions (and countries), and with the knowledge of their own community.  This shared out-of-the-box vision was exciting and served to motivate and inspire them throughout the development process.

Lesson 2

Strong, committed and innovative leadership at the CEO, staff and board level was a key element in the success of this hub.  These individuals successfully moved the project through the conceptual stages, purchase of the land, consultation with the community, municipal approval process, and work on the renovation.

Lesson 3

An important learning from the ideaLAB & Library Hub is the role that municipalities and their agencies can play in the development of community hubs.  Many hubs are led by and focused on community based services and nonprofit organizations. This case study demonstrates the opportunity for municipalities to build on their existing services in creative and innovative ways that result in spaces for community engagement and connection.

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