History of the Library

Valley Regional Library

From literacy to library – how it grew

VRL – Valley Regional Library – could also stand for Volunteer Regional Library, because it grew from multiple volunteers initiatives, was conceived of and championed by volunteers, and to this day relies heavily on its volunteer base.

It all started in the mid-1980s when some local women trained in the Lambach “Each One Teach One” system that had successfully taught illiterate Filipinos to read and write. But the need for literacy training was greater in the Winkler-Altona area than Morris, so that volunteer initiative morphed into providing training in things like typing, basic word processing and accounting using computers.

By the late 1980s, these same volunteers began to visualize that these education upgrades should be provided not by occasional courses but constantly via a public library. So began a campaign to establish a public library region, envisioned as stretching from Emerson to the RM of Macdonald, and east to Franklin/Dominion City, areas unserved at that time (since Morden, Winkler, Altona, and the RMs of Stanley and later Rhineland had formed and joined the South Central Regional Library; and to the east, the Jake Epp Regional Library.

The name Valley Regional Library was selected to allow for communities from Emerson to just south of Winnipeg, and along the tributaries of the Red.  Few of these goals were attained. The RM of Montcalm eventually established its own bilingual public library, located in Ecole-College St. Jean Baptiste, and Emerson and DC, which had small volunteer-operated public libraries, declined to join.

In 1990, the Town of Morris and RM of Morris, along with the RM of Montcalm, rejected a resolution to form Valley Regional Library. Undaunted, the volunteer committee resubmitted a suggestion that the Town and RM of Morris alone should create a library region, and this was accepted in late 1992, with an agreement that stands to this day: that the Town (even though it has a smaller population, but would benefit from the library being located in Morris) would fund 60% of the municipal share, and the RM of Morris, 40 %.

Morris Collegiate principal Art Toews, with the impetus of Terry Serediuk, shortly followed by Dr. Ross Murison, agreed to allow Valley Regional Library to locate in a corner of the school’s library. This space hosted the first meeting of the VRL board (appointed by the Town and RM councils) in December, 2012, and on May 15, 1993,Valley Regional Library opened in a corner of the library of Morris Collegiate. Volunteer Sara Derewianchuk was selected to cut the skate laces strung across the entrance to the new library.

Our public library fledged in this space, growing from a few hundred books to a few thousand. It was great to have Morris School students get their first exposure to a public library happen within the walls of their school.

The volunteer board had been looking at various locations, but in 1993, the King Solomon Lodge, the Morris Masonic Lodge, which was about to disband, offered its building to Valley Regional Library. VRL accepted, gratefully. A professional designer, Jennifer Yeo, was hired to turn a boxy, poorly-insulated old lodge into a modern, energy-efficient library.

Late local farmer Geordie Davidson had left bequests of $100,000 each to about 10 local organizations. Although VRL wasn’t one of them (we didn’t exist yet!) VRL was a beneficiary, as several of those groups contributed thousands of dollars to our building fund.

During 1994 and 1995, thanks mainly to a federal government grant that paid for wages for employment trainees; we renovated this 1951 building to 1990s energy efficiency standards. That’s a story in itself. Many others contributed to our new location, including counters from the RM of Morris and an insurance agency, which we are still using till this day, 2016.

Neil Diamond should have been playing, because it was on a steamy humid August evening that our new wooden shelves were connected and erected by a team of volunteers. We were a little short of manpower, so George Schmidt walked down Main Street and recruited a couple of guys out of the bar at the Colonial Inn!  The shelves in place, volunteers transported books from Morris School to our new location, and we reopened soon after.

The age of computer-automated cataloguing and circulation was emerging as VRL started, so from day one, we used computers, not card files. Cataloguing systems have come and gone.  Currently we use the Insignia system.

Dianne DeKezel was our chief librarian until she moved over to Morris School, after which Diane Ali moved into this position. Our library has always been run by a Dianne/Diane. Will it ever be?

In the meantime, our volunteer library board since 1993 has been (* denotes currently serving):

Barbara Shewchuk, Chair, Claudia Schmidt (Secretary-Treasurer), Council representatives: Town of Morris: Herb Bobrowski, Ken Yerama, Wendy Zinn, Jack Murray, *Ruth Murray. RM of Morris: Dick Zacharias, Ralph Groening, Margaret Gluck, *Ralph Groening.

Citizen representatives: RM of Morris:  *Barbara Shewchuk, Lynn Collicutt, *Tamara Wiebe. Town of Morris: *Claudia Schmidt, Marla Mailman, *Dianne DeKezel.

What’s next for VRL? For years, we’ve been looking forward to expanding our space so we can offer more programming alongside our loans of books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes (yes, people still borrow those!) and free use of computer and internet. We are in a challenging era where digital technology has replaced print in so many areas that some question whether bound paper books will be in demand in a few years or decades. Then we hear that e-books are slowing in popularity and people are reading more ‘real’ books.  Taking the next step in developing our library to meet the needs of our people will require intelligent, intuitive discussions. We welcome your input. But whether it’s on paper or digital device, information and entertainment will be yours for the taking, for free – from VRL. And when you come in, spare a few minutes to chat. We do ‘people’ really well here at VRL, too.