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COVER STORY: Delta libraries - All things to all people
A library is a special place, so much more than a musty room filled with books, as a brief glance around the Ladner Pioneer Library on any given weekday afternoon surely proves.
On this particular day, students are filing in, musical instruments in hand, and set about preparing for a live musical performance.
An elderly woman admires the colourful artwork hanging from the walls, donated by a local painter.
A group of students sit at the computer terminals working on their homework, alongside a young man working on his resumé.
A young mother reads to her infant son from a storybook.
A man in 30s peruses the day’s paper, across the table from a man in his 70s doing the same.
And, of course, there are dozens of Deltans, young and old, heads buried deep in their books, fully immersed in the stories they are delving into.
For some, libraries provide a free source of entertainment and education.
For the great 19th Century Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, libraries were great equalizers, providing universal access to knowledge and allowing those of any class to better themselves.
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration,” he is quoted as saying.
He meant it. During his lifetime, he donated the equivalent of $1.7 billion dollars to build more than 2,800 libraries in the English-speaking world.
This year marks a historic milestone for each of Delta’s libraries: Ladner Pioneer Library is celebrating 50 years at its current location; it is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tsawwassen Library; and George Mackie Library in North Delta celebrates 30 years in its current facility.
For library manager Gillian McLeod, these milestones provide an opportunity to not only look back at what public libraries have contributed to this community over the years, but also to look forward and explore the possibilities of what the library of tomorrow will provide.
“Libraries are changing,” she says. “Because people are changing. Their needs are changing.”
In the past, those needs might have been simple: A public space with free access to book-lending. While the niche of the library has always been literacy in all its forms, McLeod says it’s those forms that are changing.
“It’s reading and writing, but it’s also learning to fill out forms, learning to create a resumé or do your taxes,” she says.
As a public space, McLeod sees today’s libraries as all things to all people.
“You have your home and your work, but the library is that third space where the community can gather,” she says. “It is a place to fill all your needs.”
In addition to book-lending, Delta libraries offer a wide variety of programming, from hosting community events and meetings, to parenting classes, social media training, and specialized programming for people with disabilities, as well as offering free Internet access and job search tools.
For some, the library is their first stop upon moving to the community, and a means to connect to the many social programs offered locally. For others, the library is just a safe place to spend the day.
“That’s very important to us,” says McLeod. “We want to be a safe, barrier-free space for our residents.”
Libraries can also provide public space for those without space of their own. As our population becomes increasingly urbanized, McLeod believes there will be a greater need for public spaces like libraries, not only as hubs of education, but as social and economic centres as well.
“People don’t have workshops in the basement like they used to,” McLeod says. “A library could be that space.”
McLeod sees libraries expanding to become “incubators” for small businesses, where people can telecommute or use library resources to get their Internet-based business off the ground.
Jeannie Cockcroft is the community librarian at the Tsawwassen Library and says that while more than 20,000 people come through the library’s doors every month.
“There’s a real diverse community that relies on us,” says Cockcroft. “Whether it’s seniors or students, this library is well-loved.”
Without public libraries, Cockcroft says, communities have fewer forums to share ideas, and fewer places to gather and socialize.
“It would be a pretty lonely place,” she says.
While the Tsawwassen Library is often a bustling hive of activity, there’s an entirely new breed of library user that never set foot in the building.
In addition to printed books, Delta libraries now offer electronic-books available online for use on eBook readers and mobile devices, as well as audiobooks and “Play Away” devices, which provide a single audiobook pre-loaded onto an easy-to-use digital player.
“E-book borrowing is becoming very popular,” says Cockcroft. “But I think a lot people still don’t realize that you can get e-books for your Kindle from the library.”
While technology is changing how people access library services, what won’t change is the library’s role as a public resource that benefits everyone.
“Our residents’ tax dollars support this, so we support them,” says McLeod. “Whatever is needed we look to provide.”
The end result is an investment in an educated, stable society, she says.
“That benefits all of us.”
• Join the library staff for an anniversary celebration on Saturday, Oct. 26, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at all Delta libraries.
The history of Delta’s public libraries
• The first lending library in Delta was operated out of Fawcett’s Drug Store in Ladner around 1895, and cost five cents to borrow a book.
• In 1930, the Fraser Valley Book Van project was started with a grant from Andrew Carnegie and visited rural residents from Hope to Ladner.
• Delta joined the Fraser Valley Union Library District in 1948, which changed its name to the Fraser Valley Regional Library system three years later.
• The original Ladner Pioneer Library was opened in 1963, and renovated in 1977. Thanks to a generous donation from the Adlington family, the library was renovated again in 1998, doubling in size.
• The original George Mackie Library was opened in North Delta in 1972. As the community rapidly grew around it, the library expanded in 1975, and in 1983, the much larger current library was opened.
• The Tsawwassen Public Library’s first home was what is now the South Delta Artists Guild’s Longhouse Gallery. The building’s form was originally intended to honour the Tsawwassen First Nation, and opened in 1973. By the mid-1980s, the library had outgrown its first home and moved to its current location at Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall in 1986, which was triple the size. In 2008, the library was extensively renovated.
Delta library anniversary events
• Delta Reads! A community-wide book club event for children, teens, and adults.
• Library passport
• Teen book trailer contest
• Children’s bookmark contest
• Delta library history storyboards
• Delta Reads! graffiti wall
• 3-D printing
• digital demos
• Altered book art workshop
• Teen pizza and games
• Community story-telling
For more information, visit www.fvrl.bc.ca/locations/delta_anniversary.php