ATHABASCA — Long before handheld devices and the ability to Google information, there were libraries, hubs of the community providing access to information and knowledge and expanding personal education, one reader at a time.
For 75 years the Alice B. Donahue Library and Archives has been providing those services to residents, and will be celebrating the diamond anniversary with an open house next week.
Long before it found its home south of the Athabasca Public School, it was originally set up in an unexpected place.
“The first library was housed in the old town office but moved in 1953 to the new town office,” said former long-time library board chair Bob Tannas, who compiled a history of the institution noting it was opened Jan. 15, 1947.
“As the collection expanded and as more space was needed for town business, the library was forced to move to the community centre,” he said. “In a few years, more space was required for a kitchen, so the library was moved again to the old Provincial building (present site of the Athabasca Liquor Store) in 1970.”
In 1979, the library was moved again so Alberta Gaming and Liquor could put a provincially run liquor store in the building, long before the industry was privatized.
“The library was moved to its present location in February of 1979,” said Tannas. “The location was known as the ‘Stucco School’ and was an annex of the Brick School.”
The newest parts of the annex were already 34 years old when the library moved in with construction of the labyrinth of rooms taking place between 1941 and 1945.
“The Stucco School was no longer needed as new schools were built in the town, so the building was used as a shop by the work crews for the school board,” he said.
The library board renovated two rooms and moved in February 1979 and got a third room later that year turning it into an archive room.
“In 1984, the board acquired the dentist’s office – the present work room – and then expanded to the third classroom in 1988,” Tannas said. “The final expansion happened in 1994 when the archives was moved into its present location displacing the playschool.”
Because the building was never built specifically for the library there have been challenges over the years.
“The floor was never designed to hold tons of heavy books so the shelves can only be located in one direction,” he said. “The electrical wiring was never designed for the computer age, so wiring is a hodgepodge of systems.”
Also, the heating system is outdated and breaks down in freezing weather, it doesn’t keep the library cool in summer and most importantly, the archives has no humidity or temperature control to help preserve artifacts.
It was in 2010 Tannas asked for the library and archives to have a purpose-built building, ideally where the library is located right now.
“It is the centre of a high-density residential district, and many present residents are active users of the library,” he said. “The land is owned by the town and county so no land purchase would be necessary.”
It is in close proximity to Landing Trail Intermediate School (LTIS), Whispering Hills Primary School (WHPS), and the Centre for Alternative and Virtual Learning (CAVE) and because the library is used as an overflow change room for the Nancy Appleby Theatre, a new building could allow for better flex space between the two areas.
But, regardless of what needs to be done, there will be a celebration, said librarian Cynthia Graefe.
“It's a general open house and beginning at 10 a.m. we will have Joey the Clown here,” she said. “And then at 11 a.m. we have children's story time and all during the day we will have craft kits and the like for children who stop in then.”
There will be draws for free memberships, some free books, and of course, cookies and nibbles all day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Nov. 25.