On a weekday visit, about a dozen people were lined up outside the gleaming glassed-in walls of the new Benny Library and cultural centre on Monkland, just east of Cavendish, waiting for its noon opening.
With mature trees on its front lawn, its high-tech look warmed with coloured panels, the $24.6 million library is a hit, judging from the enthusiasm users are showing since it opened its doors in February.
Some 3,000 visitors showed up for its Open House, and as of mid-March, some 875 people signed up as members for the first time, enabling them to borrow books and use the superb facilities at this latest addition to Montreal’s 45 libraries.
In the first month of operations, 30,000 visited the building, which is slightly higher than anticipated. On Sundays, 1,800-2,000 people are dropping by.
The building, next door to the Benny CLSC, has been in the works since 2008, planned and developed to restore public library facilities in the neighbourhood and offer a library that meets the needs of the high-tech era. It replaces services offered at the privately-run Fraser Hickson Library on Somerled, which closed in 2007, and the outmoded Benny Library, which closed last year.
What sets it apart from other Montreal libraries is that 40 to 45 per cent of the books and documents are in English, with the remainder in French, reflecting the linguistic mix of western NDG.
“We are a neighbourhood library, and we offer recently published works of interest to the general public,” says head librarian Lorraine Guay. “Occasionally, we also acquire works that are of more specialized interest, of extremely high literary value.” Readers can ask the library to acquire a new book and “as much as possible” the response is positive.
Magazines and daily newspapers are there to be read, including local papers, The Globe & Mail, National Post, and Sunday New York Times. Reading and studying tables are bathed in natural light, and there are private closed rooms for meetings. The cultural centre and its main hall are set to open in May. Modern dance is to be featured there.
The high-tech aspects of the building, including the artificial lighting, are in the process of being fine-tuned.
One of the library’s goals is socio-cultural: it hopes to reduce what head librarian Guay says is “the gap between those who can afford high tech equipment and Internet connectivity and those who can’t.”
It does this by offering library members the use of 12 Ipads, and 18 mini laptops, 30 Internet portals with desktop computers, and a 3D printer, and the training to use them.
Workshops have begun to teach users the relatively new techniques of how to use 3D printers, and the library was surprised that most of the students were in their 50’s and 60’s.
“All of our activities are free, including material,” Guay says. “Our goal is not to train experts, but to initiate use, to show, to encourage. With 3D, we demonstrate the basics of what it represents. We also offer beginners initial training on how to use tablets, computers, e-books, by offering equipment and beginners’ workshops.”
The library staff has a $30,000 budget for training and other programs, designed for all, ranging from storytime for toddlers to Internet training for seniors. Its new acquisition budget for books, documents, and materials is $300,000 this year.
“It’s an eclectic mix,” Guay says.
Certain groups, such as daycare classes, will visit the library outside of normal opening hours. The morning we were there a group of daycare kids listened to a story and left with a selection of books. They borrowed with an institutional membership card, allowing them to take up to 40 documents.
“We are open to receiving other groups, including those composed of seniors. We can open our doors in the morning to receive them, for various activities, to read and to borrow books and documents,” Guay says.
Given the most recent statistic that one in four Quebecers never finish high school, Guay says a public library such as this one can reduce what is among the highest dropout rates in Canada.
“We want to get seriously involved in awakening interest among young people to the joys of reading. All studies have shown that developing positive attitudes toward reading before the age of 5 is crucial.
“There are extremely serious differences among young people who have been read to and those who have not had this opportunity. Our programs, such as stories for toddlers, visits by daycare centres, parents and child visits, are all designed to develop interest in reading.
“We are a link in the chain and we have had a very positive response from families” Guay says.
Library members not only have access to its collection of 105,000 books, they can also reserve and borrow items from any of the 45 municipal libraries, which can be delivered to Benny. It also spent more than $83,000 for a starter collection of e-books in English, available on the Benny library site, to add English choices to the vast majority of e-books in the municipal library system that are in French only.
The library is eager to teach seniors how to download books from this collection, says spokesperson Raymond Carrier. “It’s a lot easier than people think,” he says.
Benny Library opening hours are Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm, Monday from noon to 5 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday noon to 7:30 pm, Thursday and Friday noon to 6 pm.