U of R Press book tells Regina Public Library’s history of innovation and inclusivity

By Costa Maragos Posted: October 26, 2017 6:00 a.m.

(l-r) Susan Birley, Ann Campbell, and Jeannie Mah, editors of Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library.
(l-r) Susan Birley, Ann Campbell, and Jeannie Mah, editors of Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library. Photo by Costa Maragos - External Relations

Explore the 100-year-old history of the Regina Public Library, and you soon realize this institution has meant so much more to the city than simply a place to borrow books.

The library’s story, with all of its ups and downs, is lovingly told in the book, Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library, edited by Susan Birley, Anne Campbell, and Jeannie Mah and published by U of R Press, the University’s publishing house.

The official launch of the book is on October 28 at 3:00 p.m. at the Central Public Library.

“I learned so much more about the story of Regina researching the history of the library for this book. The library has reflected the community and the needs of the citizens of Regina,” says Susan Birley, a founding member of Friends of the Regina Public Library.

Visit here to purchase Biblio Files.

The library has a long history of innovations as noted in the book.   

-One of the first fully integrated (circulation and catalogue) automated library systems in Canada.

-First writer-in-residence program.

-Pioneered English as a Second Language classes.

-Instrumental in developing a single, one-card system for users in all of Saskatchewan.

From its earliest beginnings, the library has worked to be inclusive.

At the turn of the last century, the city’s first librarian worked to ensure immigrants had access to books in their own languages.

Over the years the library reached out to the community in other ways which included setting up a women’s centre, a consumer information centre, the library film theatre, and the establishment of the acclaimed Dunlop Art Gallery.

For Anne Campbell, telling the library story is personal. She was a Regina Public Library administrator from 1981 to 1999.

“What struck me when looking at the library’s history is the commitment of the boards over the years and the way they set aside their own special interests and committed to the library. They committed to some risky stuff, some firsts that other libraries hadn’t done all the way back to 1909,” says Campbell, an award-winning writer, editor, and arts advocate. She was a Research Fellow of the U of R’s Canadian Plains Research Centre for work on a biography of Regina Five visual artist, Arthur McKay.

Biblio features contributions from dozens of local community members, including people at the U of R, whose lives have been touched by the library.

The foreward is written by Nicholas Ruddick, a professor in the Department of English. Other contributors include Brian Stockton and Mark Wihak from the U of R’s Film Department.   

The book also delves into the library’s most controversial period of its history in 2003, when the Regina Public Library Board announced it was closing three library branches and the Dunlop Art Gallery due to financial pressures. There was fierce opposition to the proposal and the cuts did not happen.

Mostly though, this book is about the personal connection Regina and area residents had and continue to have with the library.

“The most touching thing that we discovered is how the library has really affected people, and how personal contact with the staff meant a lot,” says Jeannie Mah, who is a ceramic artist and author. She earned her Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts at the U of R. “There was this camaraderie amongst the staff in the library. That was, I think, a really important part of why the library has been so generous and inclusive.”

Do you have Regina library memories?

All are welcome to attend the official book launch, with the editors and other contributors in attendance on Saturday, October 28 at 3:00 p.m. at the Central Public Library.

The event is hosted by U of R Press and the Regina Public Library.