Doing it by the book
Public libraries celebrate anniversary
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries, and the Bay Roberts public library is also celebrating a milestone — 65 years of operation.
Today’s public libraries formally began on Jan. 22, 1935, when the Public Libraries Act was passed. A provincial board was set in place and mandated to develop a public library service for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Throughout this year, NL Public Libraries has been holding a variety of activities to recognize its “75 years of opening doors and inspiring minds.” The celebration was marked in local libraries on Oct. 28. Bay Roberts is one of 96 public libraries in the province. Contemporary minutes indicate that, on Dec. 3, 1945, a seminal meeting was held “to consider the instituting of a regional library at Bay Roberts.”
A representative from the Public Libraries Board outlined the role of both the board and community.
The board promised to provide $1,000 worth of new books in the first year of operation, followed by a yearly guarantee of books to the value of $300. An annual grant of $207.50 would be made for operating costs, as well as to hire a librarian, when required.
The community was required to form a library committee, provide suitable premises and contribute to operating costs.
A seven-person committee was then formed, officially marking the establishment of what is known today as the Bay Roberts public library.
Today’s library — a recently-constructed building located at 76 Cross Road — is a far cry from the original storefront building. It was located at the corner of Snow’s Lane and Water Street. The library rented the space from James Fitzpatrick, then sublet the rear to a butcher.
The Bay Roberts Public Library Board is made up of Isabella Fry (chairperson), Roma French (vice chair), Sylvia White (secretary), Carol Jenkins (treasurer), Marilyn Clarke (Librarian Tech 1), Lorraine Parsons (librarian assistant), Carol Gleason, Shirley Mercer, Rosemary Dawson and Patricia LeGresley.
Fry, a native of North River, was elected chair in August, following the resignation of Albert Jenkins, who had chaired the board for 14 years.
“In my opinion, the basic role of the public library in a community has not changed over the years,” Jenkins says, “and I do not foresee any major change in the near future. Public services, such as computers and internet access, are now standard, but only complement the original purpose.” He realizes libraries “must be reconfigured to blend with new trends.”
The library in Bay Roberts, the only one between Brigus and Harbour Grace, is really a regional facility, says Fry. It also serves Clarke’s Beach, North River, South River, and Spaniard’s Bay and Tilton.
The board helps “support local children’s programming, sponsor visiting authors and aid in giving the library a local image,” says Fry. This includes purchasing books, children’s chairs and even a Christmas tree with ornaments.
“ We do this through local fundraising by selling tickets on donated items, especially used books,” she adds.
The library “is vital to the community,” Fry says, especially “for those of us who love to read.”
The library now has computers with internet access. “The computers are kept relatively busy,” Fry says. “ We have offered short evening courses for people on computer usage, and I think we will be offering more of these in the future.”
Another “ big hit” is a preschooler reading program, offered by library staff on Thursday mornings. Well-known authors give public talks on their books. An informal book club meets monthly. The library holds a sizeable magazine collection. Parents can borrow “ board books” for their children to easily handle themselves.
The library also provides such services as scanning, colour and laser printing, a digital camera (available on loan) and inter-library loans.
As a board member, Fry says she gets “ to indulge in something I love and” — she adds with a smile — “I can do so very cheaply because I don’t have to buy the books.” She sees it as her “way of giving back to the library system and keeping libraries open and available to others who share my love of books and reading.”
Public libraries will continue to operate as long as they adapt to the new realities of a technological society.
“Sometimes, when we speak of the breakthroughs in technology, people seem to think paper books will become a thing of the past,” Fry says. However, she “believes there will always be a need for the printed word, and I’m sure that whatever mode of learning or reading we move towards in the future, our public library system will maintain a place in it. I’m not sure it will look the same in the future, but it will exist.”
Former board chairperson Albert Jenkins emphasizes the vital role community libraries play. “Patrons should not become complacent,” he suggests. “Include the ‘right to read’ as a basic value, and lobby on behalf of ‘your’ library.”
Noting the challene of “ keeping the library board vibrant,” he encourages patrons to consider volunteering to serve on the board.
The first Bay Roberts public library, shown here in this old photo, was located at the corner of Snow’s Lane and Water Street, and opened in the 1940s.
The Bay Roberts public library is located at 76 Cross Road.