CORNER BROOK — Quietness is always the rule in a library, but the sound of a child crying was a welcome sound during the official opening of the new regional public library in Corner Brook Monday afternoon.
The facility incorporated into the Corner Brook's new city hall complex has been open for months, but it was not until this week that dignitaries such as Education Minister Clyde Jackman and Calvin Taylor, the chair of the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board, could schedule their attendance at the official opening.
During the speeches, a child could be heard crying from the upstairs portion of the library designed for kids. It wasn't loud enough to distract from the ceremony, but Corner Brook Mayor Neville Greeley noted its symbolism and the important role libraries play in lifelong learning.
"To be exposed to a library at such a young age only means good things for the future," the mayor remarked during his address to the several dozen people who had gathered for the opening.
In the crowd was Heather Perez. She takes her kids, six-year-old Hannah — who loves books about SpongeBob SquarePants — and four-year-old Antonio — who likes books about trucks and trains, to the library once every couple of weeks. It's more often than that now since Hannah is participating in the library's summer reading program.
"They both love it and I love it," she said. "We're all avid readers in our house. This is a more pleasant atmosphere (than the former library in the Sir Richard Squires Building). It's more bright and inviting."
The 11,000-square foot library offers new and expanded programs and services to residents and visitors to the Corner Brook region and is a resource base for 31 other public libraries in western Newfoundland and Labrador. In addition to a separate children's section, the library features an enhanced collection of library materials, a designated room for the delivery of library programs and computer work stations that are adaptable for persons with disabilities.
Marc Thackray, chair of the Corner Brook Public Library Board, thanked the library staff for their hard work and dedication to the transition to the new facility. He hopes the library will become a focal point for people wanting to expand their horizons, whether it is by reading a book, studying or doing research.
"We hope we will be able to serve many new patrons: those who will become dedicated regulars in the future," said Thackray.
In a press release issued July 20, NDP Education Critic Dale Kirby called on the provincial government to invest more in the public-library system
"The last new public library in this province was built in 1984 and, since the 1990s, the number of public libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador has been slashed from 106 to 96," said Kirby. "At the same time, the demand for services provided by libraries has stayed constant."
On Monday, Jackman said the provincial government has increased grants to libraries by 35 per cent and has spent more than $1.5 million on specific improvement projects in Deer Lake, Stephenville, Grand Bank and Harbour Grace.
"These investments have helped develop an early literacy program for children, extended the hours of operations at 47 sites and provided training for volunteer library board trustees and staff," said the minister.
Jackman also noted that Newfoundland and Labrador's 96 public libraries mean it has more public libraries per capita than any other province in Canada.
"In fact, 86 per cent of the population has direct access to a library within 24 kilometres of their home and all can avail of outreach services such as Books By Mail and new e-library services," read a quote from Jackman in a press release issued on Monday's occasion.
The official opening didn't go without the minister being asked by the provincial library board's chair to keep putting money into the system. In particular, Taylor said the Conception Bay South area needs something more than the 1,000-square foot library that has to service its population of more than 23,000 people — more than the City of Corner Brook's population.
"This is a wonderful place and I am glad it is here," Taylor said of the new Corner Brook library. "In my opinion, this is basically the flagship of the Newfoundland system. This is in the west. We need one in the east.
"The bigger the space, the more pleasant it is, the more people you get in, the more services you provide and you can cater to people much better as library users."