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Last Modified: April 5, 2022
Alberta Library: Sylvan Lake Municipal Library by Jessie Bach
Alberta Library Profile: Sylvan Lake Municipal Library

by Jessie Bach

This month, our virtual tour of Alberta’s public libraries takes us to the central Alberta town of Sylvan Lake and the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library. In my conversation with Library Director Andrea Newland, she describes a busy community hub where noise, play, and a little bit of chaos are all part of the daily routine and supporting the needs of the community—by providing a Little Free Pantry, hosting job fairs, and sharing Story Time via Zoom—is a top priority.

“If anyone is looking for a place to feel welcomed and included, you need to visit the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library.” —Andrea Newland, Library Director

About the town:

The town of Sylvan Lake is home to approximately 15,000 people, and the population is a blend of summer visitors and permanent residents. On average, over 760,000 visit the lakeside community every summer. As Andrea Newland points out, “summers are busy! [Sylvan Lake has] lots of restaurants and even more patios.”

Photo of the inside of the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library
Inside the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library. Photo courtesy of Andrea Newland.

About the library:

The Sylvan Lake Municipal Library serves the people of Sylvan Lake, as well as many residents in Red Deer County and the five Summer Villages around the lake.

The library building is an accessible, bright, and inviting place. There is lots of natural light and comfortable space to hang out in. It is a community hub.

About the Library Director:

Andrea Newland has been working in libraries for over twenty years and has held the position of Director at the Sylvan Lake Library for about two and a half years. When she took on the gig in 2019, she told the Sylvan Lake News that she was “hoping to make new partnerships and relationships within the community,” and “to continue to foster the positive, friendly and safe atmosphere the library has in the community.” Two years later, she’s doing just that!

JB: What’s a typical day like at the Sylvan Lake Library?

Photo of Andrea Newland, Library Director at Sylvan Lake Municipal Library
Andrea Newland, Library Director at Sylvan Lake Municipal Library. Photo courtesy of Andrea Newland.

AN: There is no such thing! The phone usually starts ringing before we’re even open. Students come in to write exams, story time is held, babies cry, toddlers run, and parents chase after them. Our patrons tell us how glad they are to see us and wish us good health. After school, kids arrive and rush to the computers to play Roblox. We register people for programs, answer lots and lots of questions, sign up new members, laugh, and reassure parents that it’s okay that their kids are noisy. To us, noise is life and community. 

JB: What do you love most about your job?

AN: It doesn’t matter how well I plan; every day is very unpredictable. As a person who gets bored easily, this is perfect! Plus, I feel at home every time I walk through the door. I also love the fact that I have so much freedom to be creative in my role. Of course, I do the required administrative duties such as budgeting, HR, etc., but I also have the luxury of getting to design new shelving and re-create our space as needed. 

JB: What is the biggest challenge you face at your library?

AN: I was barely here six months when COVID hit. I have yet to experience a “normal year” at the Sylvan Lake library. My biggest challenge has been keeping staff in good spirits, motivated, and mentally healthy during the past two years. With so much uncertainty, remaining positive and being a strong leader has been extremely taxing. I would like to believe that this challenge is almost behind us and we can begin to move forward and execute our Plan of Service.

JB: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, how did it change how your library delivers service? 

AN: We changed every single way we deliver service. Every “comfort zone” was pushed to the limit and the staff rose above these challenges. Staff who were camera shy suddenly found themselves offering story times via Zoom or programs recorded for later viewing on Facebook. We spent a lot of time answering phone calls, mailing out library materials, and doing curbside pickup. We had people from across Canada and the United States attend our virtual programs—reaching people we would never have reached if the pandemic hadn’t happened. We have now settled into a blend of virtual and in-person services, and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future. 

JB: Lots of libraries host Little Free Libraries, but I love that your library hosts a Little Free Pantry! How did you identify the need for this resource, and go about putting it into action? 

Photo of the Little Free Pantry at Sylvan Lake Municipal Library
The Little Free Pantry at Sylvan Lake Municipal Library. Photo courtesy of Andrea Newland.

AN: The Little Free Pantry has been running in the library since September 2016. It was a passion project by our Assistant Director, Jeri Wolf, and staff who had noticed a rise in hungry children coming into the library and asking if we had any food. As Jeri commented early in the program’s infancy, “any time that money becomes an issue and people begin losing jobs—we get busier because we are an inexpensive deal. You can use free internet here; you can get help with your resume—this was just one more way to give back to the community.” 

Since its inception, the Little Free Pantry has grown in space and scope—we added a refrigerator last year so that perishable and frozen items could be added to the pantry. We have been blessed by a very supportive community that rises to the challenge every time we ask for donations of food or funds. 

JB: Your library offers some great programs in partnership with local organizations. How do you form partnerships like this? What can other local organizations gain from working with the library, and vice versa?

AN: Collaborations with other community groups and organizations are what allow us to be so diverse and flexible in our programs. This year several groups reached out to us, either to make use of our space or to invite us into theirs. We were contacted by Trish Proctor with Powering Trades: a Manpower Program about hosting a Job Fair at the library. We jumped at the opportunity, as our community has been affected by job losses and economic downturn. The program went well, and they have asked to return in June for another event. Collaborations like these allow us to bring new opportunities and experiences to our community and broaden the reach of organizations that some people might never have heard of. 

JB: What other exciting programs, opportunities or initiatives are on offer at the Sylvan Lake Library?

AN: We are excited to bring back our Film Society this month with our local Landmark Cinemas. We’re showing Wildhood in March and Learn to Swim in April. Our community received the news of the program’s return with much excitement! 

We have a virtual session coming up with Telus Spark and the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary that we’ve arranged for a local elementary school. They will learn about the differences between wolfdogs and wolves, diet, senses, behaviours, and more. 

Throughout April we are hosting a Poetry Art Exhibit. Participants will work on their art in the library Friday afternoons in March and display their artwork throughout the library for the entirety of Poetry Month

With the return to in-person programs for all ages, we have lots of activities coming up in the next few months, from in-house art programs to Red Hot Science, to Paint Nights, and more! 

JB: Anything else you’d like to add or share about the Sylvan Lake Library or your experience as the Director? 

AN: It has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience so far. Even during a pandemic, the dedication of the staff, the Board, and the community has been incredible. I have never worked among so many innovative and creative people in my life. If anyone is looking for a place to feel welcomed and included, you need to visit the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library.

Photo of the inside of the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library
Inside the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library. Photo courtesy of Andrea Newland.

JB: I’d like to extend a big thank you to Andrea for answering my questions about what’s going on at the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library!

Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the useful and necessary services they provide.

Photo of Jessie Bach, author of this articleJessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta, and is a life-long library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Bibliographic Services Manager at Marigold Library System where she manages the team that does acquisitions, cataloguing and processing of library material for Marigold’s thirty-six member libraries. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, four cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym. 

Feature image credit: Photo of Sylvan Lake Municipal Library provided courtesy of Andrea Newland, Library Director.