Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Three Wise Women and Libraries

In the early 2000's, unknown to most library folks in Alberta, secret meetings were being held. None of the participants was sworn to secrecy but everyone knew that what was happening was not an approved way of operating for a public servant.

I was the "Library Guy" (Stan Woloshyn)  Alberta Public Library Service (1996-2009)

A former President of the Alberta Library Trustees Association called to ask me if I was interested in having tea with a small group that was interested in public libraries.

I was very interested because during this President's term with the Trustees Association we had had a super working relationship, accomplishing a great deal and building a very good working relationship with Trustees across the Province.

I was quite intrigued by the request and any help we could get with supporting libraries would be welcome.

After agreeing to meet I was given the date, time and told the gathering would be in a restaurant in St. Albert.

On the appointed day I drove up to St. Albert, found the restaurant and went in. The restaurant had booths with high back so I couldn't see the group. I gave the name of the President, who had made the reservation and was led to a booth.

As I arrived at the booth I was greeted by my host Mary Totman (Past President of ALTA), MaryO'Neil (MLA for St. Albert), and Her Honour Lois Hole.

Mary Totman did the introductions and Mary O'Neil put me on the spot right away with the question "what can we do for Alberta's Public Libraries".

Seeing that I was still in shock HH Lois Hole began talking about the importance of public libraries. I can't remember her exact words so I'm cribbing from her book "Lois Hole Speaks".

"Libraries are, I believe, the most important institution in our country, because everything else that's good in our society must flow from knowledge. Librarians are the guardians of wisdom and progress, but they don't hoard their treasure; they do their best to see that it is distributed far and wide." (page 139) It could just as easily been her famous story of the sweater in the chest of drawers...

With those few words the meetings with the Three Wise Women (my code) set off on a wonderful journey. Each time we would meet we would compare notes on what was happening in the library community, examine the political issues and look at the ongoing positioning of libraries.

Between meetings I provided all three with email updates and library quotes. For the two Mary's the emails were direct but to HH information that could be used in speeches was sent to her speech writer.

I attended many of the events where HH spoke of libraries and I was never disappointed with any of her messages. I especially looked forward to the annual AUMA Conference kick offs as HH rarely missed the opportunity to move out from behind the podium and with great elegance wag her finger at Premier Klein and remind him of the importance of libraries, literacy and education.

Mary O'Neil carried the library messages into caucus and with tremendous skill sowed the library messages into coffee conversations whenever appropriate.

Mary Totman carried the messages of her life long love of libraries into the community she lived in and to the many not for profit organizations she touched.

Their efforts, over a number of years, significantly contributed to raising awareness of the value of public libraries. They often talked about how libraries were changing. The messages of how libraries were using the internet and Supernet were highlighted.

The Three Wise Women were certainly Library Champions with HH Lois Hole often referred to in the library community as "the Patron Saint of Libraries".

The help received was much appreciated and added to the momentum of telling the library story to decision makers, raising their understanding where libraries fit and how they were changing to be a vital 21st century institution.

Not every Minister responsible for public libraries is a "CHAMPION" but Shirley McClellan and Ray Danyluk must certainly be honoured along with Mary Lemessurier and Horst Schmidt.




So many stories; with The Three Wise Women I was never sure if my Deputy Bill Byrne or ADM Hugh Tadman knew of the meetings but if they did they never batted an eye....in fact they were probably just looking the other way. Old style public servants.......both incredible gentlemen!!

Lois Hole Speaks words that Matter, Lois Hole Edited by Mark Lisac, University of Alberta Press 2008

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