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THEN AND NOW: Good things grow at Midland Public Library

Until 1967, library building housed a post office, customs office and steamship inspection office and licensing facility

If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask a librarian, like Faith Shergold at the Midland Public Library.

These days, libraries and their librarians offer a lot more than books and information.

You can truly access everything at the library, including a 3-D printer, food grown in-house, ukuleles, wifi hubs, book club kits with 10 books and questions included, and cognitive learning tools. And, for some of these things, you don’t even need a library card.

Libraries are the last remaining public domain that are open to anyone and everyone. They act as warming centres in the winter and cooling centres in the summer. They offer a place where people gather, feel welcome, supported, and safe.

For those lost in thoughts searching for answers, or for those looking for somewhere to go, libraries offer a safe haven.

There is one safe space in the library for teens that was once an actual safe, and it’s aptly named the Vault. Since 2022, young people between 12 and 18 years old have gathered at the Vault to do homework, hangout and snack.

The face of the old vault lines one wall and is a remnant from when the building housed the local post office and customs house.

From 1913 until 1967, the current Midland Public Library building was a federal government building, a post office, customs office and steamship inspection office and licensing facility.

While you may think the building was once a church, or part of a large estate, it was designed specifically to house the post office on the main floor, with other offices in the upper floors, including an apartment in the attic for the caretaker, and eventually for librarians and their families.

In 1967, the floors were reinforced in preparation for supporting the thousands of books acquired since the Midland library began in 1880. Despite the collection being largely destroyed by a fire in 1894, changing hands and locations several times, the collection found a home in its current location almost 60 years ago.

While the building has undergone a few updates over the years, including the librarians having to find their own separate living arrangements, the Midland Public Library has remained a hub of community activity.

“We always have been community-led and community-focused,” says Faith Shergold, the library’s manager of programming and engagement.

“One thing that is of particular interest, especially over the last couple of years, is our community pantry. We try to assist some people with food insecurity.”

Using a fridge donated from Barber and Haskill, with donations coming from community partners and the public, and now with freshly grown produce made in the library’s vertical hydroponic garden, anyone can access free food.

“It’s different from other food banks that do such important work in our community,” she explains. “We don’t have any needs testing, and our operational hours are different. It’s a non-stigmatized space for anyone to come in and pick-up what they might need.”

There is a shelf on the main floor offering a regularly stocked supply of food items where members of the public can either take what they need or drop off donations.

Further to supporting the needs of the community in as inclusive a manner as possible, this spring the library hosted drag queen storytime. A group of families came together to hear stories, and songs, and enjoy the humour and performance art unique to the world of drag queens like those from the Haus of Devereaux.

If you’re looking to go one step beyond sewing seeds of love and inclusion, last summer, the library opened a seed library.

Packets of seeds — many donated by community members — can now be borrowed with no expectation for the borrower to seed-save and return more seeds from the food they grow.

The seed library was so successful that this year the library secured a grant from the Huronia Community Foundation for a hydroponic tower to add produce to the community pantry. It’s one of the first things you see when you walk into the library’s main entrance.

Currently, the garden is growing tomatoes and lettuces — things easily grown in hydroponic growing environments.

If you’re looking for more than acceptance and food, the Midland Public Library’s Maker Place, opened in 2018, has a laser printer, a 3-D printer and many various tools to help local artists, artisans, and the curious create.

The library runs workshops and certifications to learn to use the various printers and tools.

When it comes to this kind of offering at a library of similar size, “Midland is probably ahead of the curve,” according to Shergold.

Shortly after the digital media lab opened, Shergold recalls a person recording the eulogy they were asked to deliver, adding video and photos to the recording.

“This person had qualms of how they would be able to do it the day of the event, so they recorded it instead,” explains Shergold of the creative ways people have used the space.

Thanks to a Seniors Community Grant from the province, the library now provides cognitive care kits containing activities like puzzles, colouring, and more designed for adults and older adults with cognitive care questions.

The kits have three to four activities in each kit focused around art, cars, cooking or whatever interests appeal to the person requiring the support. All the activities can be scaled to particular areas of interest.

There is something for everyone happening every week at the library with literacy programs, computational thinking for kids, live music, financial literacy, crafts, volunteer opportunities, and learning about community safety and personal safety. 

To learn more about the endless possibilities available to you for free with or without a library card, visit Midland Public Library and see how librarians and libraries keep good things growing in our communities.