Celebrate! Commemorate! And Tell the Story Well!

by Christina Wilson, Head Editor, INALJ Alberta

Celebrate! Commemorate! And Tell the Story Well!

ChristinaWilsonI moved to Alberta in 2007 to take on a position as Emerging Technologies Librarian for The Alberta Library, a consortium serving all libraries in the province. As it turned out, it was a significant year to be working for Alberta’s public libraries because March 2007 marked the 100th anniversary of Public Library Service in the province. Since that date, many public libraries in Alberta have commemorated their own 100 years of service to their communities. Two notable celebrations were undertaken by the public libraries in Alberta’s largest communities – Calgary (2012) and Edmonton (2013). Both selected themes and organized year round community events that inspired, advocated, celebrated and successfully positioned their libraries as lively, fun-filled places of change, challenge and enjoyment.

In 2007, the government of Alberta’s Public Library Services Branch (PLSB) undertook a unique community project to mark the significant 100 years of public library service in Alberta. Coordinated by PLSB Library Consultant, Patricia McNamee, public libraries were encouraged to write their own histories and submit them. Pat, a librarian and avid genealogist, encouraged public libraries, large and small, right across the province to tell their story, much as one would tell one’s own life history. This unique resource is available via a book-like digital resource on the PLSB’s website.

Calgary’s theme, “A Century of Inspiring Life Stories,” recognizes that its success as one of the busiest public libraries in Canada rest upon its ability to serve the community. This theme was further developed with the creation and launching of Calgary Public Library’s Centennial book, entitled The Calgary Public Library: Inspiring Life Stories Since 1912. Written by award-winning author and local historian Brian Brennan, it’s a good read, peppered with intriguing stories of the people and events that shaped Calgary Public Library’s history. And the book keeps producing as proceeds from its sales support the Calgary Public Library Foundation. Moreover, the extensive research undertaken for the book is accessible as a digital archive, entitled “Our Story in Pictures.”

Edmonton Public Library is nearing the end of its anniversary celebrations this year and has also published a book of its history. Just Getting Started: Edmonton Public Library’s First 100 Years, 1913-2013, is written by popular Edmonton author, Todd Babiak. Available also as an eBook, library staff hid copies throughout the city, to be “discovered” by lucky and observant readers, who are encouraged to use social media to share their impressions of the work. Both libraries intersect new technologies with traditional print to tell their story but also to engage others in making the library stories their own, a novel approach for these centennial celebrations.

This unique approach in mobilizing a province full of public libraries to participate in building a unique tale of institutional history has been on my mind lately as the 100th anniversary of the creation of my local public library draws nearer. In each, there’s a sense of commemoration of what was, with a view towards what the public library of the future can be, while still keeping the public in the center of these exciting celebrations. As these examples show, the result can be an enduring library for another 100 years…or more!