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.

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