For more than 100 years, the Regina Public Library has served the community with innovative programming. From J.R.C. Honeyman, its first librarian from 1908 to 1936, and his efforts to ensure immigrants had access to books in their own languages to the present day, the library has been responsible for groundbreaking Canadian firsts. It implemented the country’s first fully automated library system, established the first writer-in-residence program, pioneered English as a second language program, and hosted aboriginal storytelling circles.
At the heart of Regina’s eight branches is the Central Library, with views of Victoria Park, the farmers’ market, and an outdoor skating rink. Completed in 1962, its cubic composition and large panes of glass are hallmarks of the modernist style. The interior of the building is made up of three prominent spaces: the entrance vestibule; the Dunlop Art Gallery; and the main reading room, a naturally lit two-storey space surrounded by an upper mezzanine.
The Dunlop Art Gallery is dedicated to presenting a diverse range of cutting-edge contemporary art. Famous for its overflowing art openings, it is considered one of Saskatchewan’s leading cultural institutions.
The Children’s Library, the Film Theatre, and the Prairie History Room are other features of the Central branch. The Children’s Library, a colourful space with kid-size tables and chairs, hosts storytime for pre-schoolers and other programs to foster early literacy. For half a century, the Film Theatre has played a pivotal role in the cultural life of the city by featuring critically acclaimed contemporary and alternative cinema. The Prairie History Room houses a specialized collection focusing on the Northern Great Plains from pre-settlement times to present day.
The importance of Regina Public Library – which will be the subject of a new book, Biblio Files, from University of Regina Press in spring 2017 – to the city’s citizens was clearly demonstrated in late 2003, when it was announced that three branches and the Dunlop would be closed due to financial pressures. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets and a petition with more than 26,000 signatures – close to 15 per cent of the population – followed. So fierce and relentless was public reaction, the closures were prevented. – Bruce Walsh and David McLennan