Monday, March 20, 2017

Former Winnipeggers ride to library’s rescue

Former Winnipeggers ride to library’s rescue Millennium expansion gets boost from Toronto party by Bud Robertson from Winnipeg Free Press, Monday, February 5, 2001
SITTING down over cappuccino one afternoon, three members of the Winnipeg Library Foundation came up with an ingenious idea to raise money for its millennium expansion plan.

Throw a party in Toronto, they said, invite former Winnipeggers and business leaders who have connections with the city, and appeal to their loyalty to help fund the $25-million library project.

And so was born “Gerry’s Party” – an after-hours shmooz-fest hosted Saturday by two ex-Winnipeggers, Gerry Schwartz of Onex Corp., who couldn’t make it to the soiree in the end, and Charlie Coffey, an executive vice-president with the Royal Bank.

Inviting the guests to attend a performance of Larry’s Party, a musical based on a novel by former Winnipeg writer Carol Shields, was a natural fit, said Todd Pennell, executive director of the library foundation, who was one of those brainstorming in the cafeteria that day with city businessmen Joe Bova and Bruce Robinson.

They found sponsors to pay for the tickets and the post-play reception. The only cost to the foundation was Pennell’s airline tickets and expenses.

“We, as a foundation, can’t afford to put on a special night like this,” said Pennell. “It’s very expensive to do.”

And the foundation needs all the money it can get in its efforts to bring Winnipeg’s library system into the 21st century.

Compared to other Canadian cities – many of which have already built new libraries or expanded the ones they have – Winnipeg is trailing woefully behind, said Pennell.

The library, built in 1972, doesn’t have nearly enough materials nor computer workstations for a city of this size.

As an example, the main library in Bridgewater, N.S., a town about 7,300 people, has 125 computers with Internet access. Winnipeg’s main branch has a paltry 20.

“One out of every two people going into the library today cannot find the book that they want or must order it from another branch," said Pennell, and that’s placing a tremendous burden on already stressed library branches.

In 1999, 143,015 pieces of material – books, videos, audio tapes, etc. – were sent to the branches from the main library. In return, the branches sent 279,804 items to the main library.

“The usage is increasing at Centennial and it’s sucking the books out of the branches,” said Pennell. And that’s not all.

On a per capita basis, Winnipeg’s library ranks 31st in a list of 50 Canadian cities in terms of overall spending, a dismal 46th in terms of hours of operation, 37th in visits per capita and 34th in circulation.

Libraries in Regina and Saskatoon – cities about one-third the size of Winnipeg – also outrank Winnipeg’s library system.

The foundation hopes to add 250,000 books, 100 computer work stations, and an expansion of the children’s collection.

Launched in October 1999, the fund-raising campaign has so far raised $9.6-million -- $5-million from the city and the rest from private donors.

As soon as they have the whole $25 million in the bank, said Pennell, they’ll start the ball rolling, hopefully as early as this year.

For Pennell, it can’t come soon enough.

“The library is the single most important source of life-long learning because it is the only one that you can be two-years-old or you can be 92-years-old and you go into it and use it.”

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