History of Friends of the Library
Since its inception in 1950, the Fort St. John Public Library has been fortunate to have the support of volunteers to enhance its delivery of services. For the first two years, the library was entirely dependent on volunteers such as Marguerite and Frank Davies, Dorothy Forster, Margaret Rice, Olive Lutz, Mildred Lambly, Pat Bazeley, Elsie Mitchell, Anne Kent, and Ron Lucas. Volunteers have filled many functions. In earlier years they staffed the library and assisted with book exchanges in the regional library in Dawson Creek. Other duties included book sales, book readings, fund raising, service to the homebound, and preschool-children's storytimes. While they no longer staff the library, they continue with many of these activities.
In later years, and at present, one of the Friends' major activities has been the sorting and storage of donated books and the display in the library of used books for sale. This, along with the annual booksale, has provided most of the funding they have given the library for special projects. Additionally, they now provide a catered gathering at the library for the care home residents who wish to access books, videos, and DVDs on a monthly basis, and sponsor the annual production of The Charles Dickens Christmas Carol Reading. They also have the support of the Cecil Lake Store staff who display and sell donated books to their customers.
The history of the Friends of the Fort St. John Public Library Association is linked to the history of the Fort St. John Library Association. Volunteers were essential to the operation of the library in the early years and, until 1993, when the library staff unionized, were involved in the day-to-day business.
Following the defeat of two regional referendums held in a bid to build a library-theatre complex in Fort St. John in 1980, a renewed effort was made by community members to work toward the building of a new library. The existing library was totally inadequate to the needs of the North Peace population it served. Recruitment drives were held to recruit Friends of the Library, as more Friends were needed for activities to support a new library.
The Friends of the Fort St. John Public Library Association was formalized in the fall of 1981 and incorporated under the Society Act in April 1982. Its first slate of officers included Helena Mott as president, Linda Tindley as vice-president, Janette Fors as secretary, and Debbie McDormand as treasurer, with directors Leslie Lindsay and Julie Campbell completing the slate.
The 1981 annual report of the Friends listed a long line of member activities which helped fund a new library and heighten awareness of library services. By January 1983 the Friends' membership had grown to seventy. That year the library expressed concerns about its status within the general recreation framework. In an effort to increase the library's profile, Friends president Helena Mott was appointed to the city's Recreation Commission. In 1984 the library received the B.C. Library Trustees' Association Merit Award in recognition of its Friends of the Library program.
>A landmark decision was made by the library board in 1983 to secure temporary quarters in an existing building instead of pressing ahead with plans for new development which seemed far off. The eighties were very busy years for the Friends. Many activities, including trivia challenges, essay contests, co-sponsorship of many community events such as film series, concerts, supper poetry readings, and in 1985 the publication of the North Peace Trivia book all contributed to higher awareness of the library's function and needs. The North PeaceTrivia book was made possible through a grant from Horizons North and the generous contribution of many local organizations and businesses. In 1987 Yvonne Vandergugten and Dorothy Aalhus were awarded a Certificate of Merit from the B.C. Library Association for heading the North Peace Trivia project.
On June 4,1984, the whole community helped the library staff and board to move to its new premises in the Overwaitea complex. As the library only had a three-year lease on the property, fundraising work continued. Plans for a new building were ongoing, with a balance of $30,000 in the building fund. However, it was not until 1992 that the library finally found a permanent home.
In 1985 an Expo Legacy project committee spearheaded by the Regional District, the City of Fort St.John, and community members with interests in the arts, was set up to apply for funding for a cultural centre. The library's inclusion in the plans for the centre offered new hope of a permanent library site. Again, the community came together, a grant application was sent in 1986, and with Expo Legacy and local funding, the North Peace Cultural Centre came into being, and the library moved to its present location in the centre in June 1992.
The Fort St.John Public Library has benefited through the years from the volunteer services and contributions of community members. By the end of 1991 library volunteers were staffing the library for over 35 hours a week. The library was very short of shelving for its anticipated move; in November 1991 it received a welcome donation of $57,000 from the North Peace Bingo Association and the Rainbow Bingo Hall to aid its purchase of shelves. The media has been very helpful in providing publicity for the Friends' activities. For several years in the mid-nineties, Louise Framst wrote a column in the Alaska Highway News titled " Library Corner." The Independent Order of Foresters has contributed money to the Friends in support of children's programs the past two years, and has assisted with the annual booksale in January.
Again, the library's needs have changed, the community has grown, and it finds itself looking for more space.
This history was written by Yolande Harrison, Secretary, Friends of the Fort St. John Public Library Association. Information was obtained from interviews with current and past Friends, library staff, and board members. Information was also retrieved from newspaper scrapbooks and picture albums collected through the years by Friends and library staff. These are available for viewing at the library, on request.