British Columbia Library Association

How to turn 150

By Faith Jones

The New Westminster Public Library opened its doors on Aug. 15, 1865, becoming the first library open to the public in British Columbia. But how do you throw a 150th birthday party? Nobody lives to 150, so there were a lot of unknowns.

The first question to answer was “what does this anniversary really mean?” The library decided it was not so much about the past as about building a future on the foundation of the last 150 years. The celebration focus became the next 150 years. The organizing committee chose to focus on things that will be the library’s mainstays for the coming decades: technology, reading, art and culture, and the local community. The planning process resulted in a year-long calendar of events.

150th Library Cards

Early in the year the library released a redesigned library card, for the first time offering keychain fobs. The new cards provided opportunities to recruit new members via social media. The library posted pictures of the new cards, tagging active New Westminster bloggers and Twitter users, who then spread them to their followers. The fobs proved a very popular feature — some existing members even “lost” their cards and paid the $2 replacement fee just to get the fob.

Page 150

While all of the anniversary events had digital elements, the Page 150 program was the only one conducted entirely via social media. Staff posted a picture of a book accompanied by the first complete sentence on page 150 and a link to the book’s catalogue record. About 150 titles were sent out this way via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

150 Reading Challenges

Staff were polled to come up with reading challenges that covered a variety of formats, genres, and reading habits. For example:

The challenges were collected in a booklet that was professionally printed. For each challenge a patron completed, they could enter a monthly draw for NWPL 150th birthday T-shirts and limited edition shoulder bags. More than 3,000 copies of the Reading Challenges booklet were distributed and many patrons came in more frequently than usual to add their entries to the draw.

The youth librarians also used the Reading Challenges idea for their Teen Summer Reading Club, and got a great response.

150th Birthday Party

This year the library’s birthday fell on a Saturday, making it a great opportunity for an outdoor party. This also seemed like a great way to get kids involved in the celebration. While planning the birthday party, staff were concerned about concurrently organizing our annual “Tech Days” event. The solution? A huge, combined fair with outdoor and indoor activities for all ages.

Outside, an event called “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” took inspiration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which also turned 150 in 2015. Staff dressed in Alice-inspired costumes, silly hats, or period-appropriate clothing. Volunteers decorated the library’s parking lot with colourful paper flowers and banners. Kids made silly hats at a craft table and got pictures taken at a photo booth. A face painter, sidewalk chalk art, cake and iced tea, and a proclamation by the mayor declaring August 15, 2015 “Love Your Library Day,” rounded out the outdoor events.

Indoors, staff set up a gaming station for teens and held an “Appy Hour” talk for parents to learn about reading and educational apps for kids. Through a partnership with Douglas College, a 3D printer demonstration ran continuously throughout the day. Staff managed an eBook station and tables where patrons could learn more about different electronic services, particularly the library’s newest acquisition, lynda.com. Several vendors attended and demonstrated products like PressReader and Zinio. The local London Drugs brought along gaming equipment and large-screen TVs, which were set up for teens.

The event was a huge success, with several thousand attendees and representatives of all three levels of government taking part.

Art and History Exhibits to Celebrate 150

The library has two exhibit spaces. In the fall, the library exhibited its collection of Joseph Plaskett paintings, marking the first anniversary of his death. A well-known Canadian artist, Plaskett was a long-time supporter and friend of his childhood library. Visitors to the exhibit could also enter to win a copy of Plaskett’s memoir, signed copies of which were left over from a previous show. The overjoyed reaction from the winning patrons showed how much this local artist means to them.

Other exhibit spaces were given over to historical material from the library’s collection, including a strange old map, photographs, and a 19th century magazine cover depicting the nascent city.

150th Celebration Mario Bartel Slide Show

A sad event in New Westminster this year was the shuttering of one of two local newspapers, the New Westminster NewsLeader. The newspaper’s longtime photographer, Mario Bartel, agreed to produce a slideshow at the library in December, a few weeks after his last shift. His extraordinary photographs, along with his memories of the people and places he explored and his explanations of how news photography works with written journalism to create public understanding of events, were warmly received by the community.


Faith Jones is Manager of Public Services at the New Westminster Public Library. She has worked in public and academic libraries, and taught the “Public Libraries” course at UBC SLAIS.

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