Wendy Wright, left, and Melissa Sawatsky at the Smithers Public Library. (Tom Roper photo)

Wendy Wright, left, and Melissa Sawatsky at the Smithers Public Library. (Tom Roper photo)

The libraries of today are not the libraries of yesterday

Tom experiences the new world at the Smithers Public Library

I started out reading comics back in the day. Spiderman was my fave and I collected many issues rummaging through second-hand stores.

Then I graduated to Coles Notes to get me through book reports at school. Eventually, I made it to the library and slowly improved my reading skills. I admit, I was not the best at returning books on time and fines did become a problem. My library was the style we remember, ‘shh, quiet, people are reading type.’ I don’t recall any other activities other than taking out books.

The Smithers Public Library is a whole different operation. I had a chance to meet with two very dedicated individuals, Wendy and Melissa, the other day and they introduced me to the many facets of the library world of today.

First off, there are no fines, I have never heard of such a thing. Secondly, this Library is abuzz with activities such as writing and podcasting workshops and Book Lover’s Night Out.

“We run a leadership program where teens lead the agenda for younger kids,” said Wendy.

”Some of these youth use this experience on their resume when applying for their first employment. We have a summer reading club, baby and toddler time, noninstructional days programs and more, provide interesting outlets for the younger set from Lego to Puppet shows,” said Melissa. “One event, our Magician show drew over 150 kids.”

“When we do hold an event our lack of space does truly come to the forefront. Our building was built in 1967 and has been added onto several times but it seems usage has continually gone up as our library works hard to stay abreast of today’s changing world,” said Wendy. “These changes include technology kits and thousands of eBooks, eAudiobooks and eMagazines. These products found new subscribers during COVID times as many readers felt more comfortable taking out books through their computer.”

“And speaking of the computer, we have WiFi, several workstations and even offer one on one computer training free of charge,” said Melissa.

Wendy gave me the usage stats over the 2019 year and they are pretty significant. 13,000 eBook take-outs, Wifi computer users at 16,552. Junior fiction at 37,332 and adult fiction lagging at 16,883 with nonfiction at 10,886. These are pretty good numbers, and certainly they diminished through COVID years 2020/2021.

“We are back in full swing and expect our numbers to return with COVID restrictions behind us,” said Wendy.

What happened to the plans for a new Library/Art Gallery, I asked.

“Well, unfortunately our grant application fell through just prior to covid,” said Wendy. “We are at a pause stage, rethinking and reworking. The absolute need is there. Our children’s section is quite small, we do not have a specific teen space and we definitely need a quiet room for those wanting to study, write exams or receive tutoring. Our actual book shelving space needs to expand for sure.”

“Even though we can order books from other libraries we definitely need to upgrade the mount of books we have,” said Melissa. “Our only available storage space is through the trap door into the crawl space.”

How do you pay your bills, Wendy, I enquired?

“Salaries are covered through the Town of Smithers and we are very grateful for our funding,” said Wendy. “We have various grants directed to specific programs. The B.V. Arts Council, the Wetzin’Kwa Community Forest and the Bulkley Valley Foundation have been very generous to us over the years We also have our Friends of the Smithers Library group said Melissa, they are an actual registered charity comprised of volunteer fundraisers. And by the way, their annual Book Sale will be going ahead at the Legion May 13 and May 14 after a 2-year hiatus because of COVID. Book donations are now being accepted during open hours.”

After an enjoyable interview with these community book lovers, I asked how the citizens of Smithers and area can get behind the new library build project.

“Well, it starts with raising awareness of how many people use the library,” said Wendy. “We are a free and safe space that supports people of all ages and walks of life to grow and learn.”

“You do not have to buy anything to be welcome,” said Melissa. “Our programs encourage the meeting of persons with similar interests. Even if you do not use our facilities at this present moment in your life, look around and you will see many fellow community members who rely on their public library. We truly appreciate your support.”