October 2018 is Canadian Library Month and today during Ontario Public Library Week, I applaud the creation of all the libraries I’ve visited including several across the country in other provinces. As the celebration poster states, “A Visit Will Get You Thinking”.
This Monday at a southwestern Ontario library branch, I received a pink papered heart and was encouraged to write down why I valued public libraries. Yes, it got me thinking as my mind drifted over the Ontario-Manitoba border towards a “Not-so-little library on the prairie”.*
Oh, how our libraries have changed: more open spaces, more natural light like the new Gaynor Family Regional Library!
During my childhood on the prairies, one of my goals was to read every book in our house including my parent’s collection of Reader’s Digest and a musty 1926 – 24-volume set of encyclopedia entitled The Book of Knowledge. In the winter, I would hibernate with second hand novels in my bedroom. In the summer, I would sit in a tree in our backyard and devour each paragraph and chapter until it was time for supper.
However, when the family’s limited supply of books was depleted, I turned to the local high school where part of the community library’s holdings were shelved in a temporary space. Despite not having a permanent home, these books opened up new worlds for me and once again I vowed to read every word ever written. (I’m still working on that!)
Oh, how our libraries have evolved: a gathering place for like-minded souls.
If books are friends then libraries are safe places filled with unique experiences and personalities. One of my joys of travelling is to stop at a neighbourhood library and explore the local history and culture. I can often predict what a city or town or village is like from the book treasures stored on its library shelves.
Some have become community centres listening to the patron’s needs by offering programs and services unheard of before….like knitting classes and Lego building groups for children.
Oh, how our libraries have become a home away from home: a place to unwind and share.
One of my favourite libraries (away-from-home) is the Gaynor Family Regional Library in Selkirk, Manitoba. Most folks have never heard of this hidden gem but I discovered it for the first time while I was on tour with my debut poetry book Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014) in May 2015.
Located about a half-hour’s drive north of Winnipeg, this environmentally responsible facility finally opened in 2014 after a long dedicated and collaborative (yet challenging) journey with local and regional supporters.
I arrived within a year of its official opening and I can still remember the heartfelt reception I received.
Ken Kuryliw, Director, Library Services, was outside waiting for me, and he directed me through the glass doors. Even the spacious foyer appeared larger than the size of the former library on Main Street. What a change! My first impression of the new building was favourable: warm and welcoming….plenty of ‘sunny Manitoba’ light with large windows….the conference room was a spacious area with a stage and all the props that I needed….a place to display my books and an easel plus tables and chairs for all the workshop attendees.
Beyond the conference room was the Red River Planning District offices that shared the building. On the left was UBUNTU, the urban café and bakery….where according to its website, it serves “specialty coffee, tea and other beverages, pastries, cakes, desserts, soup and panini, as well as freshly-baked, hand-crafted bread.” It is open five-days a week. The library is open six days. Both are closed on Mondays.
“We want people to read, talk and eat,” said Kuryliw as we walked by the café. Even after three years, these initial comments still make me smile.
Oh, how I love books: the scent of an illustrated cover, the feel of the spine, the rustle of pages
I could tell a great deal of thought went into the planning of this facility….the entrance of the children’s area was marked by giant sized books. So much fun PLUS two dedicated rooms were decorated with red and white toadstool chairs for children to sit on…. A teen area was tucked farther away in a north corner with modular furniture that could be moved and rearranged to suit everyone’s needs. The aisles between the book shelves were roomy.
On one side, the Bob Jefferson Room commemorated a long-time resident and supporter and was available to community groups for meetings and other events. The reception and check-out area was also spacious and welcoming with friendly and helpful staff.
What I loved the most were the tall windows and the large comfortable sofa chairs where anyone could relax and curl onto with a good book.
Ten computer stations were available for public use. For those who had their own computers, free Wi-Fi was available throughout the building and on the outdoor patio areas. Patrons could plug in their equipment and/or recharge their cell phones in comfort.
A community bulletin board kept visitors informed. Between the front doors, community brochures sat like warm toast in presentation racks.
Kuryliw mentioned that the land beyond the library was being maintained as a nature preserve with prairie grasses and other wild vegetation.
There was plenty of parking too!
Several days later, I returned and had lunch, a quiche at the café. Five stars for sure….homemade with fresh ingredients…. Yummy!
A year later, I was back in the province and brought a friend with me. This was also her first visit and she was also impressed by the windows and spacious feel to the facility. We paused at the community bulletin board and were in awe of all the events that were planned.
On this particular day, three women were at the back, spinning wool on their spinning wheels. They showcased their wares and told us that three more spinners/knitters were on their way. A teen sat beneath the Quiet Zone sign. In the community room, an author prepared to read and we paused to have lunch which was just as perfect as the meal I had a year earlier.
Later that evening, I brought my laptop and posted a blog while seated in one of the comfortable chairs near the two sided fire place. A flame flickered and I felt like I was at home and not at a library. What a beautiful environment! The Selkirk residents should be proud of what they have accomplished….a library that not only offers books but a safe environment to meet, to learn, to share.
Oh, how some libraries inspire us to dream: to spread our creative wings.
I shall be back like an echo returning to the comforts of a second home.
When was the last time you stepped into a public library?
Happy Canadian Library Month!
*Special thanks to reporter Lorraine Stevenson and the Manitoba Cooperator who coined the phrase “Not-so-little library on the prairie” and used it as a title for a May 27, 2016 on-line article about the Gaynor Family Regional Library.