Frog Lake First Nation will be opening a public library sometime in the new year, making it the first First Nation in the province to have a public library connected to the provincial system.
According to Mary-Jane Quinney, the superintendent for the Frog Lake Education Authority the library has been a long time coming.
“I’ve done a bunch of proposals trying to bring new programming in to the schools so we can get the things we need here in Frog Lake. Earlier we were approached by Northern Lights to do what they call a pop-up library. And we were working on that, but having difficulty,” said Quinney.
Quinney said that even though the pop-up service never got off the ground in Frog Lake, they kept in touch with Northern Lights and the relationship continued to grow.
Part of new school build
When the First Nation decided to build a new school in 2019, part of the conversation was about multiple uses for the building and the potential to have a dedicated library space inside.
“So we are creating a library in our new high school. And that library will be joined with Northern Lights, so that we will have the benefit of the library system for our community,” said Quinney.
Northern Lights Library System is one of seven regional library systems in Alberta.
Located in Elk Point, NLLS allows member libraries in northeast Alberta to pool their resources and collections, improving access to information and materials across the region. Fifty-four municipalities are members of NLLS including the Town and County of St. Paul, Town of Elk Point, M.D. of Bonnyville, County of Lac La Biche and City of Cold Lake.
According to Terri Hampson, the Interim Acting Director of NLLS, the Frog Lake Library will be very different from the pop-up service they have been providing to indigenous communities since 2016.
At the time, the NDP government provided $670,000 to the six regional library systems in the province to eliminate the roughly $60 non-resident user fee which was charged to people using library services who lived outside of municipal boundaries – most often, residents of First Nations or Métis Settlements.
“This is going to be different, this is going to be a library service to them and they will be treated no different than the other municipalities that sit around our table,” said Hampson.
‘It is really important’
“We’re going to borrow books from them. And we’re going to have our own library number so that we can collect our own data. It is really important to be able to collect our own data to see how many people are actually using the library and how it’s being used,” said Quinney.
“Once you can get your head wrapped around how big this actually is. It’s pretty amazing. And we’re pretty excited to be part of it,” said Hampson.
Hampson noted that NLLS and Frog Lake are still in the early stages of library development as no contracts have yet been signed.
“But we have definitely intent of good faith. We’ve just worked together with them and sent them equipment and stuff to get them set up. Their SuperNet will be hooked up in spring, it coincides with their new building. We are pretty excited to have them be sitting at our table,” said Hampson.
The SuperNet is an Alberta system of underground fibre optic lines which connect municipal buildings, hospitals, schools, and libraries to the Internet. Part of the levy NLLS charges member libraries covers the cost of their Internet services through the SuperNet.
Hampson said the SuperNet is not the same as the Internet people have at home because it requires specialized firewalls, cybersecurity, and IT equipment to access it.
“It’s like a highway that the province owns, and we (NLLS) are the taxis driving on it and we pay a fee to do so,” said Hampson.
According to Quinney, having a library in the community will not only improve access to information and knowledge for the people of Frog Lake, but also creates a space for people to go to.
“It would be a place where activities can happen. Like if some kid is coming in to do hockey, and then his brother or sister’s not interested in hockey, she can drop by the library and read or do any of the activities that are available in libraries,” said Quinney.
She pointed out the libraries of today are very different than they once were. It is common to find maker spaces, computers, and digital media in addition to the traditional book collections of the past.
“There’s a lot of indigenous books coming out now, and different information, histories and things like that. It would be great to have a repository of those kinds of things here in Frog Lake for people to look at and study and have available. And then having access to all of what Northern Lights has, allows us to broaden that experience into anything that people want to read or access. So we’re looking forward to it,” said Quinney.
Public library services in Alberta are governed by the province’s Municipal Affairs department. Individual libraries are funded through a combination of provincial grants and municipal taxes.
According to Justin Marshall, press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, the minister is excited to be working with Frog Lake First Nation to establish a public library in the new school.
“Provincial library funding for Frog Lake will be available at the same per capita rates as all other communities in Alberta. We provide $10.25 per person to the Northern Lights Library System for people in Frog Lake to access library services. New public libraries are also eligible for establishment grants at $10.70 per person,” said Marshall.
“Municipal Affairs staff have been working closely with our partners in Frog Lake and with the Northern Lights Library System to make sure the new public library will be connected to the province-wide network to access all the services we have to offer. We look forward to the library opening in the new year,” said Marshall.
An exact date for the opening of the Frog Lake Library has not been set.