More than just books and mortar

Public libraries offer services and programming, too

Shimby Zegeye-Gebrehiwot is a regular patron of the Millennium Library.

Photo by Callie Lugosi

Citizens who can’t remember the last time they’ve used their library cards may be surprised to find that they can get more than books and DVDs from their local library.

“Libraries are probably one of the last public, democratic spaces in the community,” Ed Cuddy, manager of library services for the Winnipeg Public Library, says.

“We run over 4,000 free programs every year for all ages: lectures, concerts, computer workshops, book clubs (and) language classes. In recent years we’ve (begun) to offer Ojibwe and Cree language courses, which have become popular,” Cuddy says.

According to Cuddy, the number of people who have library cards has remained relatively steady, but the way people engage with public libraries has changed.

“The libraries are busy, active places. They’re a lot noisier than they used to be, in a good way,” he says. “More and more people come in to use this space, not just to read or borrow materials.”

For many, libraries are imagined as quiet buildings where one may pick from a catalogue and enjoy themselves in peace. While in many ways they are still that, the institution has evolved in an effort to become more inclusive and to meet the needs of its patrons, Cuddy says.

That evolution has meant reaching out beyond its walls and adding resources within them.

“We get outside of the traditional walls of the library to engage the community. We have ‘check it out’ programs, which do pop-up library events every two weeks in low-income neighbourhoods in Winnipeg,” Cuddy says.

The Millennium Library, located downtown, has a social worker to assist those in need.

“That’s a way we connect with community organizations to provide referrals to some of the vulnerable, maybe homeless, individuals that come to the library, to make sure that their needs are looked after as well,” Cuddy says.

These additions, which redefine what a library could be, maintain the spirit of what libraries ought to be.

This is clear for Shimby Zegeye-Gebrehiwot, a student and filmmaker. Zegeye-Gebrehiwot, a regular patron of the Millennium Library, frequently takes advantage of the library’s many study rooms and the different programs it offers.

“When I think of my sense of place in the library, this room is definitely an anchor point,” she says of a particular study room.

With so many programs offered, keeping up with all the events may be a bit overwhelming.

“I keep a pretty good eye on what they have,” she says. “I have ... the Winnipeg Public Library app, so I’ll look at the events listing fairly regularly.”

“There is a lot to explore,” she adds.

As the Winnipeg Public Library changes and grows over time, it commits to offering a wide range of services for the community, Cuddy says.

Keep up with the Winnipeg Public Library by checking out or by downloading the Winnipeg Public Library app.

Published in Volume 72, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 25, 2018)

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