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Red Deer Public Library marking 100th birthday

The Red Deer Public Library is hoping locals are not all centennial-partied out, as it prepares to mark its own 100th birthday in 2014.

As residents learned as they ate thousands of pieces of birthday cake along with the city in 2013, the City of Red Deer got its start 100 years before and has grown exponentially since.

While pre-incorporation Red Deer — population a few hundred — could already boast dramatic societies, an amateur comedy company, and a symphony orchestra, the first public library came after the city became official, council having been encouraged by a 133-signature petition to set up the Red Deer Public Library.

The library’s first home was in the old Board of Trade building where teenager Ina Green became the first chief librarian, earning $1 for every three hours of work.

Prominent members of the town made up the first library board, and the facility went through a number of directors in its first few decades.

The fifth director, a Mrs. Pamely, considered being a moral arbiter for the town part of the job description, censoring children’s books and even hiding the most affronting works in her desk.

Such censoring is not part of the library at 100, a reflection of a change in attitudes of librarians since the early days, according to library CEO Christina Wilson.

“Libraries were set up as places where (library boards) wanted to I think transfer the values of the community and give people a place to learn. Changing to a place of leisure, that was a huge shift, (to say) that leisure had value in society, that it wasn’t all about work, work, work,” she said.

As the world moves online, much fretting has been done about the future of book repositories in society.

Through the years — whether it is with vinyl records, VHS tapes, or e-books — Wilson said libraries have always been early adopters of technological advancements, and they have always had to be agile to remain relevant.

“Paperbacks — (the idea was) they’re not a real book, a real book is a hardcover and quite heavy. The dime-store novel — they were trash. Harlequins — well that was a game changer. Some libraries would not collect Harlequins. Would not. They weren’t paying money for that and yet they were the biggest thing going,” she said.

RDPL today subscribes to two e-book services for adults and another specifically for children, plus an e-magazine service. As physical book collections are likely to shrink, Wilson said the library plans to offer more.

“You have to pay attention to what the public wants and provide that,” she said.

As that physical collection of accumulated knowledge and information diminishes, Wilson said more programs will probably be offered to the public through the library where people can share knowledge in person and directly.

For 2014, some of the programs offered will play off the centennial theme. At the downtown branch, books, and in some cases pages that have been ripped out of books, have been turned into Christmas pieces, crafty creations that tie in with the 100 Things to Do with Books program that will run throughout the year.

A 100 Years of Animation film program will also run throughout 2014, and children can enjoy the 100 Picture Books of the Century and 100 Favourite Friends series.

Young ones will also have the chance in 2014 to obtain a specially-designed kids library card, to be launched at Family Literacy Day celebrations on Jan. 25. The colourful cards will be available free to kids all through the year.

In celebrating its centennial, Edmonton Public Library has offered free library cards to all city residents. Wilson said while she would love such an initiative in Red Deer, library funding levels in the city do not make it feasible.

“It’s a great idea but it’s hard to do,” said Wilson.

Library memberships are free for patrons in most of Canada, but cards in nearly all jurisdictions in Alberta carry a fee. Exceptions can be made for those with a demonstrated need.

Wilson, who has headed the Red Deer library for only half a year, said here she sees a library that is very embedded in the community. She sees the library maintaining a role as a valued community space well into the future.

“I thinks it’s amazing that they set up a city, and then right away a library. That was important to this community. That’s not something you read about in a lot of communities; usually something like that comes a little later, but there was real will here,” she said.

Wilson said there will be a number of surprise events throughout the year in addition to those already scheduled. Two of the scheduled events are a homecoming concert on April 5 featuring Duke Thompson and a formal birthday party on April 23, the day in 1914 that city council signed a bylaw creating the Red Deer Public Library.



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