Wilberforce branch an example for small rural public libraries

Fleming - Wilberforce branch (2)

Photo Credit: Fleming College

By Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian

On July 11th, the new Wilberforce branch of the Haliburton County Public Library was showcased as an example of what small rural library systems can accomplish at the Ontario Library Association’s Annual Institute for the Library as Place. The two-day library architecture conference was held in London, Ontario and attracted 130 delegates from all over the province.

Bessie Sullivan, CEO of Haliburton County Public Library, and Sandra Dupret, Principal of Fleming College – Haliburton School of The Arts, along with John Louie, Projects Manager at Carr McLean took an audience of 50 library, design, and planning professionals through the process of building the new Wilberforce branch from start to finish including the partnership between Fleming College’s Sustainable Building Design and Construction program and the Municipality of Highlands East, the fundraising group the Library Launchers, and bringing in the Environmental Studies High Skill Major students from the high school to help move into the new branch.

“They had garage sales and dessert theatre… and they raised $40,000,” said Sullivan of the Library Launchers grassroots fundraising efforts, which elicited an impressed response from the audience.

Wilberforce stood in contrast to many larger systems that were showcasing larger builds with larger budgets. But for a small municipality like Highlands East with limited resources, it was an equally big investment, and one that was recognized to be an important one. Dupret spoke about her own experience visiting the new branch recently, and seeing it busy with children and parents “you can see the positive impact that the space has had on the community already.”

Earlier in the conference, the library as a crucial part of community development had been discussed, with some seeing stand-alone libraries as a thing of the past, and replaced by fully integrated facilities such as the Alton High School, Community Centre, and Public Library in Burlington. However, in an area with limited infrastructure a stand-alone library can be a first step to further development. “It was designed to be expandable,” said Sullivan, revisiting the topic and pointing out the ability to add on to the new branch as well as the use of the surrounding land as a community garden.

After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions with many expressing interest in Fleming’s SBDC program, and future plans for the new branch. An audience member live tweeting during the presentation said that he was very impressed with how Fleming’s program aligned with library values. “This is such a success story,” said another delegate. “Congratulations.”

*Originally published in the Haliburton Echo on July 24th, 2014.

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