From Where I Sit – The Task is Huge

After an absence of 10 years I’m back on the public library board in Andrew. That obligation means, among other things, manning the library for a couple of hours Tuesday evenings. My turn rolls around every two months. The procedural stuff came back during an orientation. The other things include meetings, fundraising, and increasing awareness and usage.

Andrew’s public library is housed in a multi-use facility opened in 1991 or ?92. It is a prototypical building housing the K-to-12 school, village office and council chambers, bowling lanes, and fitness and meeting rooms. The collection includes school and public library materials. I remember the timeframe because Hilary was the grade one student selected to do the ribbon cutting with then education minister Jim Dinning and school trustees. The cooperation and resource sharing inherent in this design makes good sense, especially in small communities.

The history book Dreams and Destinies (which I titled and helped write for Andrew’s 50th anniversary and homecoming in 1980) states that the push for a public library began in 1949 with a petition by 68 electors. The village provided grants of $300 in 1950, $250 in 1951, and yearly grants of $150. In 1950 the public library’s collection of about 500 books was integrated into the school library and has been forever thus.

When our new board meets tonight we’ll discuss the replacement of three computers for public Internet use, along with nuts and bolts issues like contents insurance, terms of office, and volunteer appreciation. Discussion about a 60th anniversary celebration in 2010 should be lively.

But perhaps a more pressing issue is increasing membership and patron usage. Libraries are the original recession fighters. With the price of a hard-covered fiction book closing in on 40 dollars and paperbacks up to 20 dollars, being a book owner is not cheap. I will always maintain a home library. I spend more on books than clothing. But That’s me. Sadly, not every book is worth the purchase price or will ever be reread.

The library fills the breach. It provides exposure to authors and titles we may not know. It allows anyone, for the price of membership and compliance with rules (take care and bring them back), generous access to books, reference materials, movies, magazines, Internet, computers, and newspapers. Discards are available for 10 cents each! During my shift last night there were few visitors. I was able to check out movies I haven’t seen and wander the stacks reacquainting myself with the offerings.

As a board and individually we need to remind people that a library: is a gift, use it or lose it; saves patrons big money; can be a social hub; enriches life. With 42 per cent of adult Albertans having trouble reading and writing, some 82,450 unable to read and write, and 20 per cent of Alberta high school grads having literacy levels too low to get entry-level jobs, the task is huge. I think we owe it to 68 visionary residents in 1949 to try, from where I sit.

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