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WBRL celebrates 50 years as Literacy Month kicks off

(PHOTO: Fern Brooks speaks at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Wood Buffalo Regional Library. Sarah Anderson. REPORTER. Copyright Rogers Media.)

(PHOTO: Fern Brooks speaks at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Wood Buffalo Regional Library. Sarah Anderson. REPORTER. Copyright Rogers Media.)

Celebrating 50 years in our community the Wood Buffalo Regional Library is looking at its origins back in 1965 and taking a look ahead.

The very first incarnation of the library was in a 10 by 12 section cordoned off in the corner of the city’s garage.

“There was no heat. When members came in, people were delighted that there were books and I did my best to be very pleasant so that they wouldn’t notice that they had to wear their winter clothes, including their mitts, when they were choosing books,” said Fern Brooks, the first ever employee of the library.

She said the library has come a long way, a testament to the old saying that libraries are not made, they are grown.

“I am so delighted to see this library and I wish you so much luck in the future,” she said, noting that she couldn’t believe how beautiful the main library is considering its humble beginnings.

What began with just 3,400 books now is a collection of over 160,000 items ranging from books and magazines to DVDs, Blu-rays, digital items and more.

Looking ahead at the next 50 years the library wants to increase programming at the main branch and in rural communities.

Acting Director Melissa Flett said they are proud of how far the library has come and they are now looking with an eye to the future with a goal of becoming a place where everyone in the community feels welcome.

“We know that we want to be a library for everybody in Wood Buffalo, so not just in Fort McMurray but all the communities that we serve,” she said.

Already the library runs programming and has book shelves in rural communities, but Flett said she wants to do more than that.

“We want to be a regular presence out there that they know, ‘okay, the library’s going to be here and this is when I can go and get my books and get access to the materials that I need,” she said.

Flett said 2016 will bring the Welcome Centre and new programming. The 2016-2018 Plan of Service is in development and will identify specific community needs.

The celebration includes many planned events at  the library and coincides with the launch of Literacy Month, something Flett said it was important to mark every year.

“Literacy is so important for your future, for success. If you know how to read, then that’s freedom,” she said.

There are activities through the library and through the Rotary Club, which held its own celebration Thursday morning to kick off the special month.

“We thought it would be great to partner up with other organizations and do literacy workshops, kickoffs like the one today, as well as the one that we partnered with the library that will allow children to come and exchange their books in their costumes for Halloween,” said Meghan Langille who helped organize Literacy Month with the Imagination Library program.

It’s a program spearheaded by Dolly Parton that brings literacy to all children and has been adopted by the Rotary Club of Fort McMurry. Local children can register online.