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Fraser-Hickson must fundraise to ensure future

John Dinsmore and Reverend David Sinclair (photo: Kristine Berey)

For Shannon Rose, 18, “everything began” at the Fraser-Hickson Library. “I feel really excited,” the college student said when she heard that the 123-year old Library – closed since early 2007 – will reopen next fall. “That’s where I learned to read. The library fostered a lot of the interests I have today.”

It was a beaming John Dinsmore, president of the Library’s board of directors, who gave The Senior Times a tour of the new premises at Trinity Memorial Church on Sherbrooke W, just east of Decarie, near the Vendome metro. “We are in a firm contractual agreement with the church,” Dinsmore said. “They are delighted to share space with us while serving the community.” Though the pillars of the $6 million plan are in place, the Fraser-Hickson must resume fundraising to assure its continuity.

As a first step, requiring an investment of $2.5 million, approximately 70,000 items in the library’s collection will be made available to the public in a beautiful 9,000 square foot heritage space, featuring high windows and 18-foot archways in the lower level of the church. The second phase, costing about $3 million will see the building of a 21,000 square foot extension on the Marlowe side of the church. There will still be a children’s library, meeting rooms, and a rental space for community events. Plans for a new section for teens reflect the library’s commitment to literacy and young people. A reference section will provide more computers and an emphasis on a range of electronic resources. “We have always been a library that has helped people increase their knowledge,” Dinsmore said. Parking spaces are planned and the site will be wheelchair-friendly. The library is looking to restore its membership and volunteer base.

When the library first closed, many of its 12,000 members joined the CSL and Westmount libraries. These facilities were overwhelmed during the city merger, while they were free to nonresidents. When the city demerged, these new memberships were terminated.

Those who fought to save the Fraser Hickson expressed a sense of betrayal by the decision makers at the seeming lack of political will to preserve it. Many find it a bitter irony that a library that had provided free services to Montrealers from 1885 to 2003, would not benefit from a 10-year action plan implemented just as the Fraser-Hickson had to close its doors. The plan calls for an investment of $125 million to build new libraries, renovate existing facilities and upgrade library services in the city.

“You have to realize their collection was very different,” explained CDN/ NDG borough mayor Michael Applebaum when asked why a public-private partnership was not realized. “They are a research document and history library and a City of Montreal library is more of a popular library.”

But Applebaum said the Fraser- Hickson has been a vital part of the community for over 50 years and deserves to be funded. “It’s an excellent project. The borough will support them with funding for a long-term plan. They still have to find the necessary funds but when they go to any foundation, they can say the City of Montreal backs us – that we support them re-opening can’t be questioned.”

Community support is essential to libraries, says the director of the Eleanor London CSL library, Tanya Abramovitch, but not by having people pay out of their pockets in fees. Even in CSL, where residents treasure their library, when a $5 membership fee was instituted in 2005, the registration plunged from 18,000 to 13,000. “Support for public libraries is a very long term commitment. They need the promise and support of politicians to prosper. I cannot imagine how we would survive without the support of my council. The library budget for 2008 is $2.3 million.” Abramovitch says her new book budget alone takes up over $200,000.When it comes to readers who want to read English books, regardless of their mother tongue, the Fraser Hickson is a unique and irreplaceable Montreal resource.

“We’re looking for expressions of popular encouragement,” Dinsmore says. “We have a place, we have a plan, but we still need money. Does the community want the Fraser Hickson to flourish? That is the key question.”



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