Fernie Heritage Library Heroines

Last month we celebrated behind the scenes Unsung Heroes, offering a service which invariably goes unnoticed and of which little is known about. This month, despite singing the praises of a service which is pivotal and well known in our community, it again surprised me. Behind the old, stoical walls of the Fernie Heritage Library resides a hive of entertainment with more activities to choose from than books themselves. The Fernie Heritage Library is not just about books but so much more. I met with Emma Dressler, Library Director to hear more about what her and her staff and volunteers bring to this small town.

How is this library different from others?
“It’s all about access to all, where people can come and feel like it’s their space…in a safe place.” From the outset it’s apparent that this is true. Everyone is welcome and unlike other libraries I’ve visited and crept around uneasily over the years, it is foremost friendly as well as offering more services and clubs than imaginable. You don’t even have to be a member to use some of their services – although it’s a free, simple process– catering to both Fernie residents as well as offering a safe and helpful ‘welcome to Fernie’ to those just arriving for the winter.

What is the history of the Library?
The Library moved back into its present space in 1999, when it was renovated to its current beautiful state. It’s not municipal – instead relying heavily on funding, volunteers and fundraising initiatives, functioning as a not for profit service. A member of the Public Library Association, one of only 17 in BC, it’s now celebrating its 120th year, with its first reading room stemming back from 1899. Fundraising and partnerships play a large part in the Library’s success. Working with the Fernie Writers Conference and the Arts Station helps to cover costs and improve exposure and the infamous Arts & Letters surpasses all fundraising expectations every year.

What does it offer Fernie?
Times have changed and although many people come to simply read – one gentleman is said to actually keep his slippers at the library – there is so much more taking place under the beautiful, ornate ceilings. Seeing anywhere between 1,600 – 2,500 visitors a week, there are seven to nine members of staff, with an additional 12 – 15 enthusiastic Fernie style volunteers shelving books, another nine on a volunteer board and then a friends group and those who care for the library garden. That equates to a lot of effort, dedication and love.

Over and above reading, you can head to the library to use their computer space as a visitor, local or as a small business owner. If in need of some down time reading, you can come to peruse a magazine or the daily paper. Look for a job or accommodation – “not officially part of our mandate,” Emma explains, but they’re more than happy to help those newcomers find their feet. And often find a friend or new roomie at the adjacent computer.

What Clubs are there?
The basement of the Library is primarily “children’s space”. There seems to be everything on offer for the young generation including Toddler Time, Pre-School Programs, unlimited programming for school aged kids learning how to use the library from an early age as a valuable resource and Homework and Maths Clubs. Coming up in October, add to that a Lego Program, a Natural Disasters Program – where kids learn how to make 72hr kits, Writing Programs for pre-teens – described by Emma as “creative, interactive and social learning.”

At the other end of the spectrum, seniors also receive unfailing support and assistance. Many pop in to read – the slipper owner included, whilst others are visited by staff and volunteers, bringing books right to their home. Rocky Mountain Village also has weekly book group and film discussion and “story time with seniors” sees kids and parents visiting too.

And if you’re a third party looking for usable space, the Library has got you covered. A Mom’s group meets there free of charge, as well as the Women’s Resource Centre – ideal neutral space for whatever the need.

What excitement is going on this month?
Each month new programs appear on the calendar and October is no different. One particular event is the new City of Fernie Greenhouse Gas Emissions Centre that will be taking shape – a resource primarily for professionals, but also for kids and everyone in between. Four exciting authors are coming to town to promote their recent works and an “Out of Bounds” program aiming to take you out of the Library is also en route.

So in an action-packed, ready to burst at the seams nutshell, there you have it. The Fernie Heritage Library filled with amazing staff, volunteers, programs, clubs and free slipper storage. This month, as the weather cools and the nights get longer, if you have a card, then aim to use it more, if you don’t, then get one and if you’ve just arrived to town, then go get yourself a job, room, roomie and then kick back with a good book and wait for the snow to roll into town.