It took nine years of work building community support to bring the Lethbridge Public Library into existence a century ago. When the library opened its doors to residents on Aug. 14, 1919, it was housed in two rooms at the YMCA on the northeast corner of 10 Street and 4 Avenue South.
The library’s early advocates could not have imagined how much the local book repository would have changed 100 years later as the public library celebrates its centennial throughout 2019.
The changes occurred in stages. In 1922 the library was relocated to 3 Avenue South, where the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG) now stands. The building housed a children’s library, adult library and lecture room.
Over the years, the city’s growing population prompted the need for a larger library space and in 1974, the library’s current downtown location welcomed its first visitors. Bookmobile service debuted in 1985, and the building was expanded in 1992, adding 20,000 square feet of space. The Page!Break Cafe was created in 2007 and an outdoor patio was added in 2008. The library further extended its reach in 2010 when the Crossings Branch opened in West Lethbridge.
Now, of course, in the digital age, the library’s boundaries are almost limitless, stretching as far as cyberspace can take it.
In spite of its broad virtual reach, the Lethbridge Public Library’s physical presence remains as important as ever.
“A huge part of our role in the community is having a space that’s open to everybody,” says library CEO Terra Plato, emphasizing that everyone in the community is welcome to spend time there as long as the code of conduct is followed.
Plato says the library’s early planners “envisioned it as a safe place for people to go,” and in that way, “our role hasn’t changed that much. How we fulfill that role has changed drastically. We’re certainly evolving more to be a place that connects people not only to information and resources but to other people.”
Perhaps the biggest message library staff are seeking to communicate during the centennial year is the wide range of services and resources the library has to offer.
“People think books and children’s programs, or maybe a movie night,” says Plato. “But the range has become so huge.”
She goes on to point out people can purchase tickets to local events at the library. Or, they can borrow sports equipment.
“There’s just so much going on,” Plato says of the library, noting, “The library is about lifelong learning but we’re also about leisure. It doesn’t have to be about learning.”
The library’s role as a community gathering place, and also as a place where people can go to spend some time, isn’t a new one. Plato recalls her time as a University of Lethbridge student.
“I lived outside the city and during the day, in gaps between classes, the library was often the place I came,” she says.
One way in which today’s library is far different from the one which originally served Lethbridge citizens is found in the modern digital technology which has changed the way people read and access information. But in spite of the technological advances, books haven’t disappeared. Far from it.
“It has not replaced the physical book, it has been supplementary,” Plato says of digital technology, which has not diminished people’s desire to read good old-fashioned books.
“I don’t foresee technology replacing but enhancing.”
The public library goes beyond providing resources and serving as a place for people to gather. It is also looking to take a more participatory role in the community.
“We’re seeing more and more the idea of social justice as a huge focus for the public library right now,” says Plato. “How to participate in the bigger social fabric of our community and contribute to ensuring that everybody has a voice.”
The library’s celebration of its first 100 years continues throughout the year, with a number of public events on the schedule. As a further highlight, the library is offering free library memberships this year to anyone who doesn’t already have a library card.
Here are some of the upcoming events:
The Joy of Cookbooks: Claire Tansey
May 2, 7 p.m.
Main Branch (Theatre Gallery)
Canadian chef Claire Tansey is passionate about food! She has worked as a cook, baker, cooking teacher, test kitchen manager, restaurant critic, and most recently, she was the Food Director at Chatelaine. Now, she’s on a new journey with the publication of her cookbook: Uncomplicated: Taking the Stress Out of Home Cooking. Join us as we gain a new appreciation for cookbooks, and let Claire’s enthusiasm and passion for simplicity inspire your own cooking adventures.
Indie Lethbridge 2019: Author Meet and Greet
May 16, 7 p.m.
Main Branch (North Wing)
Meet the authors and musicians whose works make up the Indie Lethbridge 2019 collection, a collection of materials by people in Southern Alberta, or whose works take place in and are about our area. Discover the inspiration behind these exciting new additions to our collection directly from the people who created them.
Tidying Up with the KonMari Method: Declutter, Organize, and Spark Joy!
Presented by Helen Youn, Certified KonMari Consultant
June 1, 11 a.m.
The Crossings Branch
Get inspired as Helen Youn, the first and only certified KonMari Consultant in the Prairies, shares an introduction to the KonMari Method™, a life-changing and revolutionary way of home organizing. Founded by Marie Kondo, the KonMari Method™ has become a cultural phenomenon, and has inspired millions around the world to ask the question–does it spark joy? Learn how to implement this method to transform your home into a clutter-free and joyful space.
Author Reading: Kai Cheng Thom
June 6, 7 p.m.
Main Branch (Community Meeting Room)
Join the Library and Lethbridge Pride Fest as we host award-winning author Kai Cheng Thom. Self-described as a “writer, performer, lasagna lover, and wicked witch,” Thom is currently working on I Hope We Choose Love, a collection of essays on love and forgiveness in the sociopolitical apocalypse. She has published widely, including the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, and (with Wai-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching) the children’s picture book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea.
Library Comic Con 2019
June 15, 2–5 p.m.
The Crossings Branch
For fans of nerdy awesomeness, the Lethbridge Public Library presents our third annual Library Comic Con! Put on your capes and head to The Crossings Branch for a day of cosplay, workshops, superhero stories, and more! Our Artist Alley will be full of amazing creators and vendors, and our local comic and game shops will be in attendance with everything you need to continue your adventures in fandom. There’s something for everyone at Library Comic Con!
Watch our website and social media for more information and a schedule of events.
This year’s very special Library Comic Con Guest: Ryan North!
“Ryan North is the writer responsible for Dinosaur Comics, the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Adventure Time comics, the #1 bestselling anthology series ‘Machine of Death’ and the New York Times bestselling and Eisner-Award winning ‘Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’ series for Marvel. He’s turned Shakespeare into NYT-bestselling choose-your-own-path books that allows YOU to play through and make the decisions for Shakespeare’s heroes, which is absolutely a great idea and won’t cause them to get into trouble three choices in. His latest book, How To Invent Everything, is nothing less than a complete cheat sheet for civilization. (ryannorth.ca/about)
Get Your Summer Reading On Celebration
June 22, 10 a.m.–12 p.m.
Main Branch (Kids’ Corner)
Come party with us for this special national launch of the TD Summer Reading Club! Join us for dancing, singing, stories, reading, giveaways, drawing, and all sorts of fun things on this Saturday morning. We’ll even have the illustrator of the 2019 National Reading Club here!
Sing Out Summer Fun
July 4, 1:30–2:30 p.m.
The Crossings Branch (Friends Place)
Main Branch (Theatre Gallery)
An interactive musical adventure for families of all ages. Join Juno Award Nominee Mary Lambert for a dazzling and dynamic performance full of catchy tunes and audience participation.