Cunningham honoured for library leadership
Those wishing to read a book on library leadership need only look under “C” for Cunningham.
Long-time Fort Frances Public Library board chair Joyce Cunningham was honoured with the prestigious James Bain Medallion during the annual Ontario Library Super Conference on Jan. 30 in Toronto.
“I have to say I was extremely surprised, and then really honoured due to a number of things,” Cunningham said of receiving of the award.
“One is being nominated by people that you’ve worked with, you have great respect for, and that makes it even better when you know that,” she remarked.
“It was a very memorable evening.
“The people that have gone before me have been people that have dedicated a great deal to the whole library world,” added Cunningham.
“And I think sometimes that people don’t realize what board members even do, and I believe very strongly that taking care of things like policy and being in compliance with legislation is important.
“And it forms the base on which we can develop the services for the community.”
Cunningham noted the James Bain Medallion recognizes what board members do and corroborates what she believes, which is: “We’re not just in the business of building better libraries. We’re in the business of building better communities, and that’s very, very important to me.”
Cunningham has been dedicated to the local public library board, and various regional and provincial ones, for more than 20 years—all on a volunteer basis.
“I think that I got excited way back when I was a teacher-librarian,” she noted.
“But then as you realize the potential for libraries, not only here but across the province, across the world, and the importance of libraries, I got more and more excited about what I could do, and how I could develop my skills and my knowledge so that I actually could contribute.
“I think that’s part of what’s been so exciting,” Cunningham enthused. “It’s been many, many years, and I’ve discovered that there’s a great deal to learn.
“So I learned more and more and became more excited, and realized that if we are going to have good libraries, then we need partnerships.
“The board members have to work with the [library] CEO and, by extension, the staff,” she explained.
“We need to establish a good relationship with our municipal councils and, obviously of great importance, is the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and the government, because they provide us not only with the financial support but the ability to learn, to grow, and to reach out and develop expertise for ourselves and for everybody else—to make better communities.”
This November will mark the end of Cunningham’s term on the library board. Due to term limits, she will not be able to apply for a board seat.
“Since I have found this work so stimulating and so interesting, I am urging people in the community to get involved because we desperately need people to get involved,” she stressed.
“People that care, people that understand governance, that want to learn about governance and want to do their bit to make this a better library and a better community.
“We need people of various ages, various skills, various interests, and I’m really urging people to find out about [the library board] and get involved,” Cunningham added.
“If anybody wants to talk about it, contact me because you, too, can have some of this wonderful experience I’ve had over the years.”
Cunningham said the library board is developing an information package for prospective members, and the public is welcome to attend their meetings and see what the board does before applying for a seat.
Cunningham was nominated for the award by Laurel Halvorsen, who has known her both personally and professionally for more than 30 years.
She began her professional career as an English teacher more than 30 years ago, and was teacher-librarian at Fort Frances High School for the last 13 years of her career, where she worked with Halvorsen.
She was president of the local branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and chair of the OSSTF provincial bargaining unit, and oversaw the design and building of a new school library when the new Fort High was built in 1999.
In 1991, Cunningham got involved with the public library board—first as a trustee and then as chairperson.
During her first nine year-term, she urged the board to develop a five-year strategic plan, which it did in 1995.
Five years later, Cunningham chaired the second strategic plan committee, which then was completed in 2002.
That, in turn, led to a feasibility study in 2004, where it was recommended the town build a technologically-advanced, handicapped-accessible library able to service the current and future generations in Fort Frances.
“Many people worked long and hard raising money, lobbying, and attending meetings, but Joyce was always there keeping us focused and fighting to see the new Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre finally opened in 2010,” noted Halvorsen.
“In all, 15 years were spent working on making this project a reality.”
But there’s always work to do, Halvorsen stressed. Right now, it is an economically-challenging time for the town with cuts to “soft” services being a concern.
But Halvorsen added Cunningham and the board “are lobbying [town] council and reminding them that times of downturn is a time when libraries are most used.”
“And that we need to remember that it is the quality of life, including access to libraries, that makes a town a community,” she noted.
Cunningham also has sat on provincial library committees, such as Ontario Library Services-North (OLS North), the Ontario School Libraries Association (OSLA), and the Ontario Library Boards Association (OLBA).
She played an integral part in the development of OLBA’s “Leadership by Design,” an online resource to assist public library board members with their role and leadership of Ontario public libraries.
And in 2010, Cunningham was chosen as Fort Frances’ “Citizen of the Year.”
Halvorsen said Cunningham’s “love of literacy, her integrity, her passion and determination make her a strong advocate for libraries everywhere.”
Ontario Public Library Association president Joanna Aegard agreed.
“There is no one more deserving of this award than this year’s winner, as her longtime service to the advancement of excellence in public library service absolutely epitomizes the intent of this award,” Aegard said before presenting Cunningham with the James Bain Medallion at the conference.
Aegard later noted that, throughout Cunningham’s career as an extraordinary volunteer with Fort Frances Public Library, OLS North, OSLA, and OLBA, she “has demonstrated not only local leadership, but she has made a positive and lasting difference on a much broader, provincial scale through her dedicated and generous contribution of time and talent . . . to all of these organizations.”