Fifty years of thanks

By KIRAN MALIK-KHAN, Connect Contributor

Fern Brooks was the first local Librarian, and especially came in from St. Albert to attend the anniversary function. “I’m so glad, and honoured to be invited,” she said. PHOTO: Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Fern Brooks was the first local Librarian, and especially came in from St. Albert to attend the anniversary function. “I’m so glad, and honoured to be invited,” she said. PHOTO: Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Wood Buffalo Regional Library (WBRL) marked fifty years in the region on October 1, 2015. The anniversary event was celebrated with local community leaders, including a special guest. Fern Brooks, the first local librarian was in attendance.

Brooks joined the Library – then known as Fort McMurray Public Library in 1965. She moved to town in 1958 to teach at various schools including Keyano College.

“There were 1,200 people here in 1958,” recalled Brooks, who lived in town for 44 years before moving to St. Albert 13 years ago. At that time, the Library was home to 30,000 books.

Speaking to Connect newspaper, she shared the history of how the first library was launched crediting the Waterways Ladies Club for raising funds when 3400 books were acquired due to the shutdown of Gunnar Mines Library near Uranium City, Saskatchewan.

“The boxes sat there for months. The ladies raised money through bake sales, and raffles, but didn’t want to run it, so I was approached. I was a substitute teacher at that time, and had some free time,” shared Brooks.

“The city created a 10 x 12 foot partitioned area in a maintenance garage. There was a little door. And, no heat with -40C and -50C temperatures as I sat facing the door. We kept our winter clothes on. My husband, David, and friends volunteered over the weekend typing catalogue cards. The Library moved five times in 10 years. We moved and packed, and unpacked ourselves. I even drove the truck. The town helped with the fifth move. But, those were some of the happiest times of my life,” Brooks continued.

The Library had 268 members the first year and a circulation of 8,000, shared Brooks as she addressed the attendees.

“We thought we were doing well until a $311 bill came in and club ladies had to have more bake sales,” added Brooks, who started out with a salary of $1.25 an hour.

“We thought we were doing well until a $311 bill came in and club ladies had to have more bake sales,” added Brooks, who started out with a salary of $1.25 an hour.

Mayor Blake who was in attendance, congratulated the Library on its Golden Anniversary.

“The Library went through rebranding in June. Recognizing it as WBRL shows how much the Library has grown. The community has embraced everything we have to offer. I’ve been in Wood Buffalo for 33 years, and have seen it move to the city hall building.

Staff and board members at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library’s 50th Anniversary community celebration held  on October 1, 2015. PHOTO: Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Staff and board members at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library’s 50th Anniversary community celebration held on October 1, 2015. PHOTO: Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Today, over 20,000 titles are borrowed, with 25,000 patrons. We are fortunate to have WBRL, and its diverse programming for every age group. We appreciate all you do. Thanks to the staff for making it thrive and hum,” Mayor Blake enthused.

Shazia Mughal, who joined the WBRL Board four months ago was delighted with the anniversary event.

“It’s awesome. Going through the rebranding was exciting, and especially meeting Fern was great. Being around people who read books is always a fabulous feeling,” she shared.

In 2006, the Library moved to its current location at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre on MacDonald Island. Today it houses 160,000 materials (including books, CDs, DVDs/Blue Ray, Video games, periodicals and magazines) in a 50,000 plus square foot facility. The anniversary event comes just in time to coincide with October proclaimed as Literacy Month.

Among the other activities planned by the Library for the 50th anniversary is ’50 Years of Thanks’, which is a patron appreciation event for Teens and Adults on October 16. On October 25 ’50 years Under the Big Top,’ will be hosted, which will be a circus-themed family event for all ages.

Visit www.wbrl.ca for details on other anniversary events planned for the month.

– Connect Weekly –