Donna Hartley, quick with a smile and a friendly hello, started out with a love of books. This landed her a job at the Ogema School library for 29 years. It was there that her love of books turned into a love for libraries. She began to volunteer at the Ogema Public Library, and eventually joined the library board as a trustee, a role she has had for over 20 years. Hartley also serves as the Ogema trustee to the Southeast Regional Library System that meets in Weyburn.
When Ogema joined the Southeast Regional Library System in 1966, the existing library officially became the Ogema Public Library. It has been serving its community with more than books ever since, but last year it faced the threat of closure.
Hartley describes her favourite memory of the library. “The time we were making gingerbread houses and I had my granddaughter here for Christmas early and so we came,” she said laughing. “Icing and candies everywhere, graham wafers, they’re breaking, and they’d make a wonderful gingerbread house and then it would fall over and start again. Just everyone around and laughing and talking and having so much fun.”
Sheri Mead, the librarian for the past five years, talks about the effort the library board members like Hartley put in. “We have a really great library board. They all volunteer their time and energy, and whatever we’re putting on, they help out.”
Although she’s grateful for the support the community gives to the library, Hartley is concerned that the role it plays is not always fully recognized. “Sometimes people take it for granted, but I think if they really thought about it and the library wasn’t here, everyone would really be disappointed and really be hurt by it.”
The community nearly lost its library last spring when the Government of Saskatchewan proposed cutting library budgets. Last March the provincial government announced it was cutting 58 per cent of regional systems library funding. “We had our big board meeting where all the trustees come,” says Hartley. “It looked like we were going to have to close the doors and there would be no Southeast Regional Library by this past September.
“If there’s no region, there’s no library here,” she said. “I would say just doors closed.”
Not having the library in Ogema would mean more than losing access to books for the community. Hartley describes how the library serves as a social hub. “A lot of the older people in Ogema like to come in in the afternoon, have a coffee and get their books and see what’s new.
“We offer programs that we know people…especially the children, wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” she says. “Usually you’d have to go out of your community. That’s the big thing – try to bring in things that you can have here without having to go out of your community.”
Hartley says the library also serves the Filipino members of Ogema. “It means a great deal to them, especially when they first arrive, because they can come and use the computers, use the free Wi-Fi to communicate back home, get set up, they can use the computers to take a course to get their drivers license, check in with any health benefits, those kinds of things.”
Mead says the library is “a place where people in our community young and old can meet.
“Kids come here to use computers, to read books, to hang out. A lot of people use it just as a safe place to come, to connect with others.”
It is largely because of the work of library advocates like Hartley that the Government of Saskatchewan reversed its funding cuts, although Hartley says the funding for the coming year is still up in the air.
Everyone in Ogema would suffer without the library, says Hartley. “Every community has needs, and you need a place to help those needs, and we can do that here. We have so much access to anything. So I think that’s why it’s important that we play that role, because sometimes the library is the only place that can do that.”