You want culture? It’s all at the CamBay library
“We probably have one of the best libraries in Nunavut”
CAMBRIDGE BAY — With its public library, cultural centre, museum, art gallery and archives, the May Hakongak Community Library and Cultural Centre in Cambridge Bay is a one-stop shop for culture and education for this community of 1,300 people.
While some libraries struggle to bring people in, the May Hakongak library reels in residents of all ages — from the very young, who can’t read, to elders who are more comfortable with their oral tradition than books.
The library does this by offering a wide variety activities intended to draw everyone, no matter how old, into education, whether it’s based on traditional or modern knowledge.
For kids, there are after-school programs, which sometimes include read-aloud sessions when volunteers or staff read from the library’s collection of children’s books.
During last month’s literacy week, many residents, including MLA Keith Peterson, came in to host an afternoon reading session.
And sometimes home-grown music is also on the program.
Ashlee Otokiak, a talented fiddler who is also blind, and Greg Poapst, are among the local musicians who have played together at the library.
For tots, there’s also a playhouse where they can try on pint-sized traditional clothing. And soon the library will be equipped with a small “reading igloo” and a puppet theatre to spur on children’s storytelling creativity.
Older children, youth and adults may always browse the bookshelves, pick up a magazine, surf the internet or listen to a CD.
Unlike other libraries in Nunavut, the May Hakongak library isn’t a publicly-run library. Instead, it’s operated by the non-profit Kitikmeot Historical Society.
The library’s books come from the Nunavut Public Library Services, donations and purchases.
But the society also receives support from all levels of government, Inuit organizations and other funding groups, which enable the library and centre to be everything to everybody, all on a budget of $500,000.
Since it opened in 2002, the library also bought many books and acquired hundreds of DVDs — as many as can be found in a small video store. There’s also as music CDs for all tastes and magazines.
“We probably have one of the best libraries in Nunavut,” says centre manager Renée Krucas.
Many of the centre’s cultural activities, such as sewing programs, or its community access computer section also feed the library’s popularity.
“People can do these programs and computers and hopefully they’ll also take a book,” Krucas said.
The best part? Membership to the library— and participation in all the centre’s many programs — is free.
The centre also houses several museum style displays on Copper Inuit history and culture, based on traditional knowledge recorded by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society and artifacts from the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
These draw in many visitors, but the library already has hundreds of regular members in Cambridge Bay.
It’s even managed to double its number of monthly loans since investing in new bookshelves and magazine display cases.
Students from Cambridge Bay elementary and high schools regularly visit the library, and they’re also involved in the cultural programs offered by the historical society.
Last year, students worked on making mittens as part of a sewing program — and Krukas said even young boys would stop her around town to ask “when’s my sewing class?”
Overall, the mood of the library is open and casual all the time, Krucas said.
The idea is for people drop by, and say “we can do this,” she said.
The library is open to the public Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Kids can also come Tuesday night 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for special activities, while Thursday nights from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. are reserved for adults.
To celebrate October, national library month, as well as Halloween, the library planned several special events.
On Sat., Oct. 23, a mask-making and crafts session takes place from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m, and on Sat., Oct. 31, there will be a Halloween party, with prizes given for the best costumes— for all ages, said the library and centre’s assistant programs manager, Lisa Bachellier.