Libraries these days are about much more than books. Though the Whitecourt & District Public Library features a fantastic selection of reading materials, it also provides things far beyond that. “At the library, you can try out many activities and interests. We’ve had people tell us over the years that they have gotten into several new hobbies through trying them at the library. We’ve hosted soapstone carving and various other types of crafts, and so this is just another thing that someone can come here and try out. If it’s something they like, then maybe they will decide to get their own pair and spend more time outside snowshoeing,” explained Library Director Joseph Kubelka.
“This year, we launched the Community Access Program, which was a partnership between a few groups here in town through the People of Whitecourt Encouraging Resiliency (P.O.W.E.R.). It included Chromebooks and laptops that people could borrow. Emma Harper, the Town’s Recreation Coordinator, heard about that and called us up one day and said, hey, how about snowshoes? We said sure!”
He said that Harper applied for a Communities ChooseWell Recreate Grant. “It’s a partnership between the Town of Whitecourt and the Library. The Town applied for the grant, and the snowshoes live here. They are used for both Town and Library programs, and people can come here anytime and rent them to do something that involves physical activity.” Kubelka said that idea was that the AJMC was stretching its reach down the hill. “People don’t have to only go up the hill for all of that stuff. They can do something down here too. It’s also closer to Rotary Park, so a family could take the snowshoes out for an afternoon, or for up to a couple of days, and go snowshoeing around Rotary Park or somewhere around Whitecourt and then bring them back.”
All community members need to rent out a pair of Chinook snowshoes is a library card. “We have a size chart at the library that tells people which size they need, and we have ten pairs. These have only been available for a short time, but we have already had people take them out, and I think it’s going to be super popular. People seem to be really happy that there is something like this available at their local library.”
Kubelka said that programs like this are part of the evolution of libraries. “Libraries these days, in bigger population centres, have something called a Library of Things. They have things that people can borrow that you don’t traditionally consider part of a library collection. They have everything from tools to technology and toys. We’ve been expanding on that project by project here in Whitecourt. We’ve got activities kits that people can take home that have movies and books and toys in them. We’ve had those for years. A couple of years ago, we added activity bins that people can use in the library that have the more expensive and complicated stuff like robotics. People can also borrow fancy high-quality marker sets for adult art therapy. Those are things that they can use here because we don’t let them take those home.”
He said that anyone who doesn’t have a library card could sign up for one on the spot. “They are free and easy to get,” said Kubelka. When he was told years ago that a small-town library couldn’t offer things that a bigger centre could, he took it on as a challenge. “We have introduced a ton of services and programs that are typically only found in bigger city libraries like Edmonton or Grande Prairie. We managed to do that by introducing them differently. One big thing we do is on-demand services or programs similar to these snowshoes. So, instead of running a snowshoe program, we have snowshoes that people can borrow. That’s one way that we make everything you could find in the city available here in Whitecourt.”
For those who haven’t been in a library lately, Kubelka said the space is changing. “In a traditional library, the space is dedicated to rows and rows of books. In contrast, in a modern library, you actually have a good share of the space, even up to half of it, as a gathering space and having new types of library services like computers and materials and items that people can borrow to make their lives more vibrant and fun.”
Residents interested in snapping on a pair of snowshoes and giving the winter activity a try can reach out to the library. “I’m really glad to see the library evolving as much as it has. My goal has always been to bring modern elements to our library here in Whitecourt, and this is just another part of that,” he said. Anyone with ideas for something they would like to see offered or if they would like to sponsor the next cool addition to the library’s ever-growing tickle trunk, Kubelka invites them to call and chat.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press