"Managers resisted allowing Indigenous patrons into the library."
It was during my last semester of my Bachelor of Arts degree that I realized librarianship was the perfect career for me. But what began as a fascination with the idea of ‘working with books all day’ quickly turned into the realization that I was entering a career where I could make a difference to the world around me.
My first professional job was for a library system in north-east Alberta that provided support for 37 rural libraries. I began my position within weeks of the Public Library Services Branch of the Government of Alberta’s announcement that they would be providing a grant to library systems to provide services for Indigenous patrons. I had a supervisor who cared greatly about providing exceptional library services to Indigenous peoples on and off reserves, and she immediately put this grant into action.
All 37 library managers were provided with cultural sensitivity training, and an Indigenous liaison was hired to develop services and provide pop-up libraries on reserves. However, receiving this grant was also an eye-opening experience in negative ways. Certain library managers resisted allowing Indigenous patrons into the library. A few board members made racist comments about how Indigenous patrons would steal library materials as soon as they had a library card. Seeing this level of intolerance was horrifying. However, seeing my supervisor forge on to create a difference in the lives of many Indigenous patrons was inspiring, and she was named a Mover and Shaker, Community Builder by Library Journal for her hard work. This was one of the first moments where I truly realized the incredible impact that librarians can have in their community.
Eventually, I began working for a school division in Camrose, Alberta. During Pride Week 2018, I drove by Camrose Public Library and saw pride flags in the windows and a rainbow ‘Welcome’ message on the sidewalk. I emailed the Director, telling her how happy I was to see such an inclusive message. She emailed back and asked to quote my email in support of Pride Week… there had been several complaints about the display, and she was writing letters explaining why she would not be taking it down. It upset me to realize that homophobia is alive and well, and this hardened my resolve to use my career to create positive change.
As the past Director of Camrose Public Library has moved on, I am honoured to be the new Director in Camrose. We continue to hang our flag for Pride Week, and soon will be hosting our third annual Drag Queen Storytime. The library has received complaints about this event in the past, and likely will again this year – but we will be ready. The library is a place for everyone, and we will never stop fighting for inclusion of those who don’t feel accepted elsewhere in the community. For this reason (among many others), there is no doubt in my mind that being a librarian is the best job in the world.
Bio: Robyn Gray is the Director of Camrose Public Library. She is passionate about providing inclusive and meaningful library services to every member of the community. She also serves as the Collections Coordinator for the Greater Edmonton Library Association Prison Project, and enjoys finding new ways to get involved in library-outreach initiatives. In her spare time, she knits and plays the bagpipes.