story by Christina Waldner | photography by Jessi Gowan
Libraries are no longer the quiet place with a stern librarian at the helm we know from the past, where you’d go to research a topic or pick out a book to read for pleasure. Now, they are the heart of the community, offering programs for patrons of all ages, a meeting place for special interest groups and technology for researchers.
The Crossfield Municipal Library is part of that new reality – and now it has a new, bigger location, too. Library director Lorea Anderson has been in charge of the library for 10 years but plans to grow the facility and its services have been percolating for much longer.
“When I was hired, the board was already in the process. They had plans drawn up. They had a site picked. They were moving forward with a multi-purpose building,” she said. “Then that building fell through. Probably three or four librarians before me have been working on this project, trying to get it off the ground.”
The first town library opened in 1953, which consisted of books kept in boxes in the ladies cloakroom at the old community hall, according to Anderson. Eventually, the town offered the library the use of a backroom at the Town Office and in 1977, the library moved to what had been the changing rooms at the old outdoor arena at Banta Park. Extensive renovations were required and the library eventually filled approximately 2,200 square feet.
The Crossfield library officially moved into its new space on Railway Street Oct. 16, 2017 after two years of renovations, including asbestos removal. The building had to be totally gutted and the renovation took longer than expected but Anderson said the change has been amazing for both staff and library patrons.
“We’re right on the main drag of Crossfield now, highly visible, sandwiched between active businesses. It’s been wonderful as far as exposure goes,” she said. “This was a bar and hotel. The building itself was built in about 1908.”
– Library director Lorea Anderson
The Town of Crossfield acquired the building approximately four years ago and asked library administration if they’d like to take a tour to see if it would be suitable for a new library space.
“It was hard to see the potential but we were thrilled with the idea that it was already an existing structure. At that point, we had no idea how much of it we’d have to take out but it was already existing and it would be renovating a historic building, giving it a facelift and making it look beautiful,” Anderson said.
The library qualified for a federal government Canada 150 grant of $433,128 and an additional $365,401 was received from the Alberta Government lottery funds, according to Anderson. The Town of Crossfield provided approximately $363,000 to help with the renovation and the library also had a substantial reserve fund it could access.
The new space is approximately 6,200 square feet on two floors – more than double the space of the old library. The main floor houses the library’s main collection, while the second floor has adult non-fiction and rooms that can be rented out, generating revenue for the library. There is also a full basement for storage. Anderson said while the size of the collection hasn’t changed all that much, the library has become so much more of a social, community building.
“There are places for people to sit down, to gather and to talk,” she said. “That changed the whole tenor of the building. We have far more flexibility with the programs that we’re offering. We really want to be seen as kind of the heart of the community.
“The thrilling part of this is that we’re now a destination, rather than a pit stop. We’ve got people making plans to meet at the library so their kids can play in the kids’ room and they can sit and talk, whereas before there was no place to accommodate that. We’ve now become a place to go and enjoy.”