The Library of the New Century

Mike Selby's feature celebrating the anniversary of the Cranbrook Public Library concludes in the 21st Century.

Artwork and landscaping outside the Cranbrook Public Library have made it comfortable and pleasing to the eye and landscape

Artwork and landscaping outside the Cranbrook Public Library have made it comfortable and pleasing to the eye and landscape

Mike Selby

The College of the Rockies, The Tamarack Mall, Western Financial Place, the Super Valu building, and Muriel Baxter School were all serious contenders to be the new home of the Cranbrook Public Library at the beginning of the 21st century.

The growing user base of the Library had far outstripped the now crammed-quarters of the Balment Park location, which the Library had occupied since 1971. Besides lack of space, the building itself had become more and more decrepit. When a plant (affectionally known as ‘Herb’) grows out of the building’s walls, it is definitely time to move.

Yet it was clear, and had been for some time, that moving was the least of problems facing the Library. Funding for the Library continued to shrink, forcing it to now close on Sundays — one of its busiest days. The cause of the problem was an old one: the Library continued to be a provincial association, and not a municipal one. Becoming a municipal one should have been easy enough, but a succession of City Councils always balked at the idea. Since the mid 1980s, the City Council had a “disdain” of the Library, while the Library Board had a “real lack of trust” of the Council.  This did not make for smooth negotiations.

After a special meeting in the summer of 2001, the Library’s board, staff, and numerous patrons formerly requested “that the city of Cranbrook assume the ownership and assets of the Cranbrook Public Library Association, and … establish the same as a Municipal Library under the provisions of the Library Act.”

Fortunately, City Council agreed, and The Cranbrook Public Library was granted municipal status on January 1st, 2002.

This paved the way for a new building referendum in November of 2002.  Although “no” was the result, the votes were far too close to be ignored.  A second referendum took place in 2005, and this time the vote was “yes.”  It was the time for the Library to move once again, this time into the old East Kootenay Health Unit. The new Library opened its doors to the public in January of 2007.

Of course much more was happening at this time as well.

After 25 years of service, Chief Librarian Patricia Adams retired in 2003. Today, her impact remains immeasurable.  Besides weathering through a series of financial crisis in an increasingly unsafe building, Adams — whose leadership began in 1978 — increased memberships by the thousands, saw borrowed items rise from 84,000 per year to 210,000, and made Cranbrook the first rural library to have a computer system.  More than this, she actively changed the public perception of libraries from silent and uninviting place with dusty shelves to a warm, welcoming and active atmosphere. She never wore a bun, and she never “shushed” anyone too sternly.

She also saw something in Ursula Brigl, a young page she hired in the early 90s. Brigl replaced her as Chief Librarian on January 1, 2004, beating out applicants from all over North America.

One of the most horrifying and unthinkable events occurred in 2001, when, (it pains me to type this), the city of Coeur d’Alene beat Cranbrook in the Sister City Family Reading Challenge.

Even though the ‘Harry Potter’ series got a whole generation reading, a parent found it harmful and wished it to be removed from the Library and all Cranbrook schools.

A more troubling book challenge involved Arthur Butz’s ‘The Hoax of the Twentieth Century.’ Published in 1976, this was the first book in English to deny the Holocaust. A Mount Baker student found it troubling that the Library had such a book, and requested it be removed. Still finding the book of the shelf, it appeared the student removed the book herself. She also tried to interlibrary loan copies from other BC libraries, with the probable intention of destroying those as well.

She certainly wasn’t alone. This godawful and abhorrent book has been challenged before, and not just in Cranbrook.  In the 90s, RCMP removed and shredded the book from the University of Calgary Library, and again at the Didsbury Public Library.

E-books, free wifi, online databases, tablets, Facebook pages, digital magazines, summer reading clubs, travel programs, technology help, homework help, full-time reference assistance,

digital due date reminders, book clubs, knitting clubs, scrapbook weekends, movie nights, and much more, the Cranbrook Pubic Library continues to serve and grow with its city, honouring the commitment first made by a group of citizens back in 1925.

Please celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Library with us this year. As can be seen by this and the previous columns, the Cranbrook Public Library is the greatest show on earth.

Here is to 90 more! Mike Selby is Reference Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library

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