Outside of the big three libraries in Alberta (Edmonton Public, Calgary Public and Red Deer Public), virtually all Alberta public libraries belong to library systems. There are seven of these in Alberta. Here is an interactive map from the Peace Library System that shows all of these library systems and the geographic regions they serve.
When a public library belongs to a regional library system, the size of the collection a patron may borrow from includes not just the physical and electronic items in the collection of that specific library but, also all the other member libraries of that region. This can easily increase the number of items available to a patron by 10 to 1,000 times the size of their individual library.
Also included in this systems model are the various university and college libraries in Alberta and they too share their materials with library patrons from around the province. Then there are cooperation agreements between the library systems themselves, which further increases the size of the collection that a member library patron has access to. Because of this structure Alberta library patrons have easy access to over 30 million items. Included in this vast number are the latest best selling books (in electronic, audio and print formats), hot current DVDs, quirky and hard to find documentaries or foreign films, and rare and unusual print books (such as community history books) that are no longer in print.
Now, you may be thinking big deal my library offers inter-library loan service, and so do Alberta public libraries. However, one of the advantages of this systems structure is that there are regular movements of materials between the individual member libraries. This means Alberta patrons won’t wait as long as you might in another jurisdiction for an inter-library loan book or other item. If an item is on the shelf of a member library, the wait for that item may be no more than six days and often is only a day or two.
One of the other features of the this systems structure is that patrons of a member library can get a library card that will work in all the other libraries in Alberta. This is called the TAL Card (and TAL stands for The Alberta Library). With this card, a patron can visit any other Alberta library and have most of the same borrowing privileges that patrons of that library have. This is a great service for patrons who travel the province regularly or who live close to the big three libraries.
As I said at the beginning, Alberta residents are pretty lucky and Alberta library patrons even more so.
Share your experiences using the TAL Card or the using the resources of other libraries in your library system region in the comments.