Kimberly Partanen, library director at the Castlegar & District Public Library, and Laura Zaytsoff, librarian, set up the library's Giving Tree on Friday. (Chelsea Novak/Castlegar News)

Gord Turner: The value of the Friends of the Library

I've been a friend of libraries for a long time.

I’ve been a friend of libraries for a long time.

I can still remember signing out books from the one-room library in my home town in Saskatchewan. I was in grade seven when I started picking out books from the telephone-building converted into a library. I’d read all the books in my home room at school and decided I needed to befriend my home town library.

The volunteer librarians were extremely helpful. They let me sign out numerous books at a time, never assessed me with fines when I was late returning them, and suggested all sorts of books for me to read. One volunteer handed me a huge tome called “War and Peace,” but although I tried to read it, Tolstoy’s novel was too much for me at that age. Still, I kept asking for books and because the part-time librarians were so generous and forgiving, I became a true “friend” of libraries.

One of the remarkable offshoots of their mentorship occurred when my wife and I went to the High Arctic to teach Inuit children. Attagutaluk School in Igloolik, NWT, was just being built, and when we entered the new building in September of that year, we discovered it had no library.

So, my wife and I made an appeal to our friends in Southern Canada to send any books they could part with to Igloolik, NWT. One couple, Reverend Lynas and his wife from Star City, Saskatchewan, decided to take our school’s need to his church and parishioners. As a result, that community became a contributing “friend” to Attagutaluk School’s library.

During the late fall and throughout the winter months, every time we went to the tiny post-office after the plane came in, we hauled several blue sacks of mail to our house, mostly books from Star City, Saskatchewan. By April of our first year in the North, we had many shelves filled with books—everything from comics to Mad magazines to children’s stories and minor novels. We’ve helped initiate appeals for books or found a way to improve libraries in many communities where we’ve lived. I remember, for example, when my wife was teaching at Mount Currie Day School on the L’ilwat reserve in Mount Currie, B.C. The school had next to no library, so she applied for a $10,000 provincial grant to set up a Primary Library. After the grant was successful, she and I spent our spare time the rest of the year buying books either from catalogues or in various bookstores in Vancouver.

Now I’m on the Board of the Castlegar Library and have been designated as the Board’s rep to the “Friends of the Library.” This group’s main purposes are to support library initiatives and to provide back-up for library events that may not be funded. To this end, the “Friends” hold a major book sale twice a year, the next one being on January 27th and 28th.

It’s a chance for library patrons to buy some astonishing books at nominal prices. Buyers get to purchase the books for a donation, and there are hundreds of books of all types to choose from.

Each year, the “Friends” also hold a January silent auction of items solicited from local-area businesses and individuals. Then from January 8th through January 27th, library users can look through the 50 or so auction offerings at the library and make bids.

Everything from gift certificates to artistic prints to you-name-it will be waiting for patrons to take away with the top bid. In the meantime, all the best to you and yours in 2018 from the “Friends of the Library.”

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