We don’t have a Web page entitled “Personal Passions” – our videos see to all that – but if we did, it would probably be headed by The Fraser Hickson Library.
This remarkable organisation, which continues to reinvent itself into its third century, remains the first privately-funded, free public library system in Quebec, and is still steaming ahead, 130 years later.
Having metamorphosed from a large, traditional library, 180,000 items strong, into a decentralised system of over 40 so-called “MiniBiblios”, spread all over the island of Montreal, this highly creative invention has turned the traditional library on its head. Instead of bringing the borrower to the book, it brings the book to the borrower, by setting up miniature libraries in such heavily used locations as YMCAs, hospitals, day-cares, women’s shelters and community centres, many of whose patrons would otherwise not be exposed to the joys of books and reading, and have never patronised a conventional library in their lives.
From a standing start, and averaging a new MiniBiblio every 6 weeks, the Fraser Hickson’s belief in children and their “First 1,000 Days” (catch ’em young and make them readers for life) has transformed it in 4 years flat. With over a dozen applications in the queue at any one time, and a small army of volunteers, the implications are obvious: its approach bears national, if not international, significance, and could be readily rolled out with appropriate long-term funding. In the meantime, in its adaptable fashion, within limited finances, it continues to underwrite reading and literacy, particularly in the young, in under-served or impoverished communities that truly need it most.
Just as we support PBS and taste in viewing, so too do we support children, libraries and literacy. Fraser Hickson is a prime example of the little engine that could, which is precisely why we support it. As PBS itself would heartily agree, libraries are not vestiges of the past, but an indispensable part of our future. They’re warm and welcoming – and free!