April 23, 2021 Mountain Living

Stop by the Banff Library

By By Kate Barker, Photo by Katharyn Sotvedt

Living in the Bow Valley is so much more than just buying a home.


The Banff Public Library was founded with humble beginnings in 1949 by the Junior Chamber of Commerce with a collection of 2,000 items, mostly novels. Its first home was in the basement of the Banff Clinic and it was staffed by volunteers. In 1962, Peter and Catharine Whyte, along with Barbara Whyte, housed the library in a private home at 111 Bear Street. It moved several more times over the years, first to a shared space with the Archives of the Canadian Rockies and again to its current location across from the post office.

In the year 2000, the Banff Public Library became the first library  in Alberta to eliminate library membership fees for local  residents. This project, aptly named “Reaching Readers”, won the Creative Public Library Service award. The library decided to continue with their free local memberships, which brought attention to the vital role public libraries play in our society.

“Libraries are integral cornerstones of a healthy community,” says Sarah McCormack, Banff Public Library Director, “Libraries give people the opportunity to find jobs, experience new ideas, access technology, get lost in incredible stories, and provide a sense of place for gathering (when we are able to do so).” Libraries are so much more than reading novels. “They are the safe and trusted spaces in every community where we have free access not just to books, information, experiences and ideas but to the expert professional advice and support which we all need to help us find the resources we want and to use them effectively.”

Today, the library is a cornerstone for the community. “The Banff Public Library is often the only readily available source of comprehensive information needed by people for personal, family, and job-related purposes,” says McCormack. In an age of so much information, and just as much misinformation, having access to a library allows residents to navigate the “infodemic”.

To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, ‘Google can bring you a million answers; a Librarian can bring you the right one.’

– Sarah McCormack, Library Director

More than just providing relevant and accurate information, having a free public library can help with the town’s economic growth. “Our community’s economy benefits when businesspeople use library resources to make wise decisions, employees use it to improve job skills, or the under-resourced use it to help break the cycle of poverty and access services,” says McCormack. “During economic hardship, our citizens turn to and depend on the library, accessing reference resources that are usually unavailable elsewhere in the community.”

During the pandemic, the Banff Public Library had to pivot and adjust their programming to fit the everchanging situation. McCormack explains, “A lot has changed with the advent of the current pandemic but we have worked to create a sense of continuity and service to our community throughout it. When we were closed, we rapidly switched to curbside, home delivery, and online programming.” The library also worked by appointment or in-house, depending on the level of restrictions in place.

The library offers online programming such as weekly free yoga, story times and online learning for children. They also offer curbside pickup, delivery, virtual book clubs, reading recommendations and services for everyone. The inter library loan system is available in case the Banff Public Library doesn’t have your exact title in house.

McCormack credits the library’s staff for their dedication to the community during the changing times. “I want to take a moment to give a heartfelt thank you to our amazing staff who have worked incredibly hard and have shown remarkable flexibility and creativity to ensure we are able to work for our community and to continue our mission in innovative ways.”

The best way to get involved with the Banff Public Library is to stop by. “We love to see new faces and share with them all that the Library has to offer,” says McCormack. “We are so grateful for the community support and we love seeing people in our space.” Find the library in the Catharine Robb Building at 108 Bear Street or discover their online programming at banfflibrary.ab.ca.


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