ROUSING THE RABBLE: Chance for openness and transparency for library

Grand Forks and District Public Library needs more transparency and openness

An article on page A7 of the Dec. 14, 2011 issue of the Grand Forks Gazette about the need for a larger and improved library building should have piqued the interest of library users throughout the region.

The article lacks detail, but one might assume that service needs cannot be met in the existing building and that the time has come to increase the floor space and incorporate part of the lower floor into the library.

The library building on 5th Street was officially opened on March 27, 1982 and after three decades it is still serving the community well.

An article written by Betty Kohn in the 10th Report (1985) of the Boundary Historical Society provides some facts about the cost of the existing library building and its furnishings.

Most of the cost was covered by a grant of $113,000 from the provincial government’s Recreational Facilities Fund and $392,500 from the slag fund. Pope & Talbot donated $10,000 worth of lumber for the project – total cost: $515,500.

The building was designed by Chernoff Design Ltd. and built by Grand Forks Contractors Ltd.

At the time of the construction of the library, the mayor of the City of Grand Forks was Yasushi Sugimoto. The chair of the library board was George Broomfield and the vice-chair was Alice Glanville – the librarian was Monica Simcox.

A library of some sort has existed in Grand Forks since 1920. At one time it was located in a candy store downtown and prior to the opening of the new building, it was housed in the former museum building.

The Grand Forks Public Library Association (GFPLA) – the body responsible for library governance – was discussed in 1945 and officially formalized when 22 people signed the official document that was needed to certify the association. A Certificate of Incorporation was received on May 7, 1946.

The first annual general meeting of the GFPLA – now a registered corporation – was held on May 27, 1947.

Although the library building is not an advanced piece of architecture and does not now meet present building code requirements in all respects, it is well built.

The Grand Forks Area Arts Council – now the Grand Forks Art Gallery Society – opened the lower floor of the building as a gallery in 1984 and occupied it until 2008.

When the art gallery moved, the lower floor was closed to the public.

The City of Grand Forks sought to correct the deficiencies in the building in 2011 and made application for grant money from the provincial Towns for Tomorrow fund. The plan was to extend the building on the east and south sides and provide wheelchair access to the lower floor. Public washrooms and a commercial kitchen were to be installed also. The money was not forthcoming.

What is the strong case for doing so? What services would be gained that are not now available? How much will improvements cost? Will the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary library funding change? Is it wise to think of improvements during uncertain economic times?

The story about the development of a library service in the region is a reminder that the library board of trustees and the city must be as open and transparent about the renovations as their predecessors appeared to be in the 1970s.

An idea that may result in the expenditure of $1-million on a building that is said to be inadequate should be shared widely, and there is no better time to start the process than the annual general meeting of the GFPLA that will be held in March.

Convincing the community that a larger library is necessary may be a bigger challenge today than building a new one was in the late 1970s.

– Roy Ronaghan is columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette

Grand Forks Gazette