Every Sunday, I leave Oliver to find a workspace that checks two boxes: a hum of conversation and an empty table for my laptop. A library would check those boxes, but most areas in Oliver are at least a half-hour walk from the closest libraries— Enterprise Square and Strathcona. If you’re walking from west Oliver, that time almost doubles.
On the weekend, a coffee house is the only local workspace outside my apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Sunday trips to the coffee house, but I’m expected to drop four dollars on a coffee and there are no research resources. An Oliver library would address both concerns.
My neighbourhood has zero non-athletic public facilities for its 19,000 residents, outside of MacEwan University on our northern boundary. We no longer have a community hall. We’re isolated in our condominium towers and developers threaten our limited green spaces. More than ever, we need public facilities that spark human connection, encourage new friendships and support people in need.
At the Alberta Library Conference this year, councillors from Edmonton and Calgary who serve on their library boards spoke about public libraries. Among them was Councilor Ben Henderson. “One of the things that libraries do really well is create a safe space for people,” he said.
In Oliver, we are missing the indoor, safe space Henderson talked about. The situation is particularly difficult for elderly residents who may not have social connections in their own homes, and for lower income families who cannot afford a trip to the movies every weekend. Libraries matter for people with disabilities, for new immigrants, for students, for parents, and for everyone in between.
Libraries also nourish neighbouring businesses. The Oliver Community League’s recent community survey found that the number one service residents leave the neighbourhood for is a library. When you leave your neighbourhood for the day, your wallet leaves with you.
On Valentine’s Day 2020, Edmonton’s rejuvenated Stanley A. Milner Library is slated to open. The Milner will be a massive facility serving all of Edmonton, Oliver included. But Oliver is not your typical neighbourhood. It’s unique. It’s not downtown, but pulses with a population density of a downtown. And it’s growing. By 2050, the city expects Oliver’s population to approach 30,000.
The EPL considers developing a library when an area’s population reaches 20,000 residents, is expected to grow to 30,000 within the next five years and when there is no other library within five kilometres.
In 2019, an Oliver library would serve 19,000 of our own as well as some of the 7,000 Queen Mary Park residents. In 10 years, the time it takes most branches to transform from concept to opening, Oliver’s population is expected to have grown further. The statistics suggest Oliver will need a library by EPL’s current policies, but they don’t account for our uniquely-dense population. By some measures, Oliver is Edmonton’s most dense neighbourhood, a far cry from the urban sprawl around the edges of the city.
Edmonton Public Library has a thoughtful, strategic plan for library expansion. EPL leadership reviews their branch and service point development policies every three years, recognizing that the needs must be re-assessed regularly. I encourage EPL to review these policies and understand that Oliver can no longer follow EPL’s traditional assessment of library service needs. Our neighbourhood is dense, diverse and lacks public facilities.
In Oliver’s future, a small branch library might co-locate with a new community hall. Or a storefront library could slide into a commercial strip on Jasper Avenue. Either way, now is the time to begin planning.
Let’s hope our booming neighbourhood will one day have its own library—for our children, our elderly, people with disabilities, those looking for human connection, and those who would love to walk to the library on a Sunday afternoon.