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Category: Library Spotlights

Library Spotlight: Brandon Public Library Downtown Branch

Posted in Library Spotlights, and Uncategorized

“I don’t think I’ll be able to help you find that.”
– No librarian, ever.

Located in the heart of Manitoba’s second largest city, the Brandon Public Library (BPL) serves one of the most diverse populations in the province through its inclusive space and ever-evolving services, programming and collection. It is deeply rooted in the social and cultural fabric of the city and continuously seeks out new and innovative ways to add to its vibrancy.

Newcomers to Canada find a welcoming environment at the BPL. Local agencies such as Westman Immigrant Services, for example, regularly introduce their clients to the BPL as a resource for improving their English skills. By embracing such opportunities, the BPL also plays an important role in promoting a culture of diversity and inclusivity in the city. Other examples of the library’s celebration of culture and diversity include a prominent display of Indigenous materials, generously funded by the Brandon Neighborhood Renewal Corporation. The library also showcases works by local artists, some of which were produced in the library itself.

With many vulnerable individuals residing in Brandon’s downtown district, the BPL also provides information about local services to assist with issues ranging from housing insecurity, mental health, to more basic needs such as obtaining government identification and access to mail delivery. Branch Supervisor, Carson Rogers, likened this role to being a switchboard for the downtown hub while emphasizing the high importance placed on respect in all interactions.

Branch Supervisor, Carson Rogers

Another way that the BPL removes barriers and builds bridges in the community is through its delivery of library materials to patrons who are homebound or in care homes. The service, which is supported by the library’s passionate volunteers, is highly appreciated by patrons who face challenges in attending the library in-person. The library is also dedicated to providing alternative formats for patrons with print disabilities through collaborations with organizations like the Centre for Equitable Library Access and the National Network for Equitable Library Service. If technology itself is a barrier to accessing information or online services, the BPL has tech savvy staff are keen to help patrons navigate our increasingly digitized world.

The BPL also provides ample educational opportunities for the city’s younger readers, both independently and in conjunction with the local school division. In addition to regular programming aimed at building foundational literacy skills, the library puts on special programs during PD days and school breaks throughout the year. The library’s Stem Club, which is geared towards patrons aged 9-13, explores topics ranging from math, aviation, “hacking,” and fossils. “Meet the Author” events have provided students with opportunities to engage in dialogue with authors whose works they’ve studied in class, an exercise that not only enhances students’ literary analysis skills but is bound to inspire future generations of writers as well. Recent authors include Kenneth Oppel and his work Silverwing, and local author Katherena Vermette with her feature work The Break.

While some prefer the individual nature of diving into a book as a healthy form of escapism, others enjoy the more social aspects of reading and libraries, which the BPL fully supports.  Book Club kits, for instance, complete with several copies of a work and discussion prompts are available for loan. For those interested in learning new skills or simply being among people with similar interests, events such as “Stitching in the Stacks” have brought together community members around creative activities like embroidery.

The BPL is also part of a growing trend of loaning items other than books. Physical Activity Cards, which grant access to the local Sportsplex, are available for 5-day loan and are in high demand. Other materials available for loan include telescopes, LeapFrog kits or interactive learning systems for children, and board games. For patrons with (or hopes of having) a green thumb, there is a seed library available at the BPL which is supported by the Assiniboine Food Forest Initiative.

In addition to its extensive collection of print materials, the library also provides access to a range of quality digital resources. Interested in exploring the “world’s largest collection of international recipes”? Streaming classic cinema, documentaries and television? Learning about local history or that of your own family? Accessing over 56,000 eBook & audiobooks? These are just some of the eResources available to BPL members – available anytime, anywhere.

Believe it or not, the above are just some of the ways the BPL serves its patrons and makes Brandon a more inclusive and vibrant community. Its seemingly boundless approach to information, services, and programming would not be possible without its visionary leadership and passionate staff. The MLA would like to extend its gratitude to the BPL for being a source of inspiration, not only to its patrons, but to the community of library professionals as well.

Article and Photographs by Rustam Dow, MLA Communications Committee Member

Library Spotlight: Carberry/North Cypress Library

Posted in Library Spotlights

“You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind”

-Fred Rogers

The process of cross-pollination in the natural world can help to produce bountiful gardens and crops required for healthy living. Communities can also benefit from this process, but rather than pollen, insects, and wind, it is libraries which act as a hub for exchanges that promote healthy social living. The Carberry/North Cypress branch of the Western Manitoba Regional Library is a prime example of this, where a conscious effort is made to promote a web of interaction between age groups, local organizations, and types of information.

One of the first things visitors may notice upon entering the library is the hum of a 3D printer transforming patrons’ imagination into reality. There is a steep learning curve associated with 3D printing and the library’s knowledgeable staff is eager to offer their support. This piece of technology, which was funded by the Carberry and Area Community Foundation, was intentionally placed near the entrance to educate the public that “libraries aren’t just dusty rooms full of old books,” in the words of branch supervisor, Laurie MacNevin. According to the library’s records, over 1000 3D prints were made last year alone. Conventional printing is also a popular service offered by the library. Other technologies available to patrons include telescopes, language translation devices, and even home radon detectors.

The library is anything but a dusty old room full of books. Large windows fill the space with natural light, making it an ideal environment for keeping plants. Some patrons will even winter their plants in the library and there is an array of permanently housed plants throughout the space, giving it a home-like, welcoming feel. The natural elements of the library are complemented by local works of art, which not only beautify the space but work to support connections to and within the local arts community as well.










With gardening being a popular pastime amongst patrons, the library, in collaboration with Carberry Garden Club, has setup a seed library where members from the club and the community-at-large can donate and exchange seeds. On occasion, the club also holds talks on topics such as no till gardening and winter sowing. An advantage of this form of knowledge exchange over generic information on the topic is that it is based on locally tried-and-tested methods. Gardening in the Carberry and surrounding area, for example, is known for its highly sandy soil composition, which poses a variety of challenges in terms of nutrients and drainage.


Another element of this library is its focus on nurturing critical life skills amongst the community’s younger generations; for instance, teamwork, confidence in using new technologies, communication, logic, and problem solving. Patrons have access to “Micro:bits,” which are small programmable circuit boards designed for teaching the fundamentals of coding. Like the learning curve associated with 3D printing, the library’s friendly and knowledgeable staff is keen to support patrons (typically 9 to 12-year-olds) with their exploration of these devices. How to Solve a Rubix Cube is a popular program which encourages both collaboration around problem solving and confidence in one’s own problem-solving abilities. Access to games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, also provides opportunities for developing verbal, numeracy, communication, and teamwork skills.

In addition to sowing the seeds of critical life skills amongst youth, the library also provides programs tailored towards the community’s seniors. The Reader’s Teas for Seniors provides a warm social atmosphere for patrons to enjoy refreshments while listening to a story read aloud.

Though some programs are tailored to specific age groups, they are not intended to divide them. For the most part, they all take place in a central, common area to encourage a community-of-one atmosphere. A notable exception is the all-ages Chess Club, which has helped to build bridges across generational divides in the community in a way that few other activities can.

Whatever the purpose of their visit to the Carberry branch of the WMRL, patrons are likely to discover new aspects of their community and of the information world – an experience that branch supervisor Laurie MacNevin describes as “breaking the algorithm,” which is a reference to the highly addictive echo chamber of information that is fed to us on social media based on clicks and likes.

Laurie MacNevin, Branch Supervisor (Left) with Mackenzie Altenburg, Library Assistant (Right)

The MLA would like to extend its gratitude to Laurie MacNevin, Branch Supervisor and Mackenzie Altenburg, Library Assistant, for their passion and commitment to creating library experiences that challenge and advance the notion of what a library is while strengthening bonds in the community.

Article and Photographs by Rustam Dow, MLA Communications Committee Member

Library Spotlight: John E. Robbins Library

Posted in Library Spotlights

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

– Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Libraries play a critical role in our democracy – particularly when it comes to intellectual freedom. In a free and democratic society, censoring information simply because it doesn’t align with any one group’s cultural, religious, sexual, or political beliefs is an affront to our shared equality as citizens. Such attempts at censorship are not only undemocratic but can also foster hate and inflict real harm on real people because of the implied messaging that some are less worthy of full participation and representation in our society.

In a defining moment, the John E. Robbins Library at Brandon University became a center for upholding this freedom when a motion to censor LGBTQ+ materials was being deliberated within the Brandon School Division Board of Trustees.

As part of a meaningful response to this challenge, the University’s Gender and Women’s Studies department launched a three-part speaker series on the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion, in collaboration with the Library, and with funding from the Margaret Laurence Endowment. The Library’s Gathering Space served as a modern-day agora for keynote speakers such as Professor Melissa Adler, from the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Robert Mizzi, Canada Research Chair in Queer, Community and Diversity Education, and poet Michael V. Smith to express the importance of queer literature and representation in our society. With hateful acts such as the École Polytechnique massacre and, more recently, the multiple stabbing incident that took place at the University of Waterloo in mind, extra measures were taken to ensure the physical safety of speakers and attendees. The Library, in essence, became an active site for defending not only intellectual freedom, but freedom of speech, equity, diversity and inclusion as well.

In addition to the speaker series, the commitment to intellectual freedom and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community was further inscribed in the Library’s physical and virtual space as a sustained response. A display of juvenile challenged books, general information about challenges to books and magazines, and news clippings outlining the events leading up to the speaker series and ultimate triumph of the LGBTQ+ community was created by Stacey Lee, Metadata and Collection Management Librarian and Natasha Ofwono, Library Assistant. A “Challenging Books” Libguide mirroring the display was also launched.

The Gender and Women Studies Speaker Series these past couple of months came at a time when many were looking for a space to breathe and be around safe company. Having queer and gender diverse topics openly and passionately discussed at the library brought a lot of positive energy and the community together. The speakers brought in were all enthusiastic and inspired but were also not opposed to opening up the conversation to those in the room to share similar stories and ideas. Hearing that Melissa Adler had taken the time to watch the entire BSD Meeting from May 23rd before she came to Brandon… or Robert Mizzi breaking down common tropes in children’s books and holding them up to banned LGBTQ+ books of similar themes.  Each speaker brought something that the Brandon audience was familiar with and then expanded on, provided additional resources, and their own experiences — either personal or professional. These curated presentations are essential to have available in smaller communities such as Brandon. They let us learn and come together in a healthy way.

– Aly Wowchuk, Chair, Brandon Pride

Dr. Kelly Saunders, Associate Professor Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies (Left) and Melanie Sucha, CIO (Right)
Display of juvenile challenged books created by Stacey Lee, Metadata and Collection Management Librarian and Natasha Ofwono, Library Assistant.
“Challenging Books” Libguide

One thing I really appreciate about the library people at BU is the dedication to supporting the *social* missions of the university alongside the scholarly ones. This is not just a “shush space” it is very much a library where inquiry and discovery is supported in all its forms for all people, even and sometimes especially when it requires events and speakers and food and debate. In a world where silent, solo study space with all the information you could ever want is just a click away online, our library embraces the physical reality of its place, its people, and the relationships and perspectives we (sometimes messily) bring to the table.

-Grant Hamilton, Director, Marketing and Communications, Brandon University

In addition to being a pillar of democracy, the John E. Robbins Library is an ever-evolving space for nurturing academic excellence and supporting intellectual curiosity. Students, scholars, and the public have access to a wide-ranging collection of expertly curated resources. Reference services, multimedia tools, information technology support and writing workshops are also accessible to patrons through the Library. The “Long Night Against Procrastination” is an event put on by the Library to encourage students to leverage these resources towards the end of term as preparation for final exams and assignments. For the event, the Library and its many services are made accessible from 7PM until 2 in the morning. Events such as this, fused with the high art, human-centered architecture, and modularity of the space make the John E. Robbins Library experience undisguisable from any of the top tier Canadian universities or “U15”.

The Curve Gallery space hosts artistic and historic exhibitions such as 100 Years of Psychiatric Nursing in Canada, curated by Dr. Beverley Hicks and Marlene Fitzsimmons, installation by Natasha Ofwono.

Laura Jacyna, Music Librarian (Left) with Melanie Sucha, CIO (Right)

The university’s Music Library offers students a cosmopolitan musical experience through its comprehensive collection of books, journals, and audio media. Musical video performances, curated by Music Librarian Laura Jacyna, are routinely screened at the Music Library. These events contribute to creating vibrant, inclusive, and social experiences for the student community. In addition to its cultural richness, at the physical level it is one filled with natural sunlight and plants – described by students as wellness enhancing space.

Supporting Indigenous pedagogy and cultural awareness are also a key element of the Library. As part of Brandon University’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, undergraduate degrees require a minimum of three credit hours of approved Indigenous content and the Library plays a critical role in preserving, acquiring, and making materials in support of this curriculum accessible to students. The Indigenous Curriculum Collection, which is geared towards K-12 teachers, also provides a range of thoughtfully curated, multi-format resources intended to support and advance culturally appropriate teaching practices. Resources on Indigenous musical traditions are also housed in the Music Library.

The John E. Robbins Library can be likened to a crossroad where democratic action, advances in pedagogy and research, and the preservation and diffusion of culture intersect. Providing a U15 experience on a fraction of the budget is another way of describing the essence of the John E. Robbins Library. Funding for the Library, when it remains static in the face of inflation as it has in recent years, spurs difficult decisions that make providing such an experience ever more challenging. When we consider all the above and the context of being situated in a small prairie city, as a library community and as citizens of Manitoba and Canada, we cannot undervalue the vital role that this library plays as an intellectual hub in the region.

The Manitoba Library Association would like to extend its gratitude to Melanie Sucha, CIO; Natasha Ofwono, Library Assistant; Laura Jacyna, Music Librarian; and Dr. Kelly Saunders, Associate Professor Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies, for their leadership and for sharing their experiences in shaping the John E. Robbins Library landscape.

Article and Photographs by Rustam Dow, MLA Communications Committee Member

Library Spotlight: Shilo Community Library

Posted in Library Spotlights

Located 25 minutes east of Brandon on Canadian Forces Base Shilo, the Shilo Community Library serves a unique mix of military members and families, youth who attend the local elementary school, preschoolers from the Military Family Resource Centre, as well as civilians from the surrounding area.

Shilo Library

First time visitors are usually surprised by the size of the library’s collection as well as its wide range of subjects. If what patrons are after isn’t available at the Shilo Community Library, it is connected to a robust inter-library loan network that is regularly used to source materials from across the province in only a few days; given the remote location of the Shilo community, this is an invaluable service to its members. As part of this network, the Shilo library also lends its materials to other libraries on behalf of patrons across Manitoba. With this in mind, one can say that the Shilo Community Library provides its services both locally and provincially.

Shilo Library

Another core service provided by the Shilo Community Library is working closely with a variety of programs on the base to promote literacy among young readers. Grade 7/8 students from O’Kelly School, for example, attend the library on a regular basis to source materials for their book reports as well as pleasure reading. Groups from the local daycare also attend the library to hear stories read by the librarians. The library also lends their space to a program where parents read to their children as a way of encouraging the practice, which is critical in building foundational literacy skills.

Shilo Library

Those who browse the library will likely notice featured items that foster a sense of inclusivity and which bring attention to the social issues of our times; highlighting works that shed light on Indigenous culture as a path to Reconciliation, materials that include LGBTQ+ themes, or ones that highlight the achievements of racialized groups are just some examples. The library has also implemented accessible labelling for patrons to easily identify books that touch on such social themes. Local interest is also a staple theme of the library and ranges from local municipal topics to province-wide ones. More creative themes include “dead authors whose work lives on,” which showcases posthumously published works.

Shilo Library

Shilo LibraryShilo Library

Shilo Library

As a space, the library is used for a variety of purposes beyond reading and borrowing books. Some examples include working professionals conducting meetings, student tutoring sessions, or simply a place to seek refuge from the heat and socialize during the summer months. Patrons are also invited to work on communal puzzles that are on display and have the opportunity to borrow one to work on at home if they so desire.

Shilo Library

Shilo Library

Shilo Library

Whether it’s a new genre or a more advanced read, patrons of all ages are encouraged to seek out new literary experiences at the Shilo Community Library. If serving the needs of adult readers both locally and provincially is the mind of this library, then promoting literacy amongst youth would be its heart, which is reflected in the wall art of the library. There is also a section dedicated to books written by some of the library’s youth patrons, which serves as both encouragement for the author and inspiration for future ones.

Shilo Library

Shilo Library

The MLA would like to extend a special thank you to Patricia Wells (Head Librarian) and Emilee DeSommer-Dennis (Assistant Librarian) for providing a glimpse into the Shilo Community Library’s world and the positive impact they’re making on the Shilo and surrounding community.

Article and Photographs by Rustam Dow, MLA Communications Committee Member