Sedgwick calling it a career

Duane Hicks

After 35 years at the Fort Frances Public Library, chief librarian and CEO Margaret Sedgwick will be retiring as of June 30.
A milestone in Sedgwick’s career has been the new Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre, which opened its doors in 2010.
From the first feasibility study to the ribbon-cutting, the process took about 15 years, with the final five prior to the project getting approval and being completed something of a whirlwind of planning activities and fundraising.
But with a new chapter having begun for the local library, Sedgwick said it’s time to turn the page.
“It’s been exciting,” she remarked. “But to tell you the truth, it’s been like a letdown.
“After five years of intense planning and work, basically working on the fundraising committee, on the building committee, and being a librarian, the job has changed significantly and it feels like so much has been done,” she noted.
“It’s a good time to leave, and a good time for someone with new and exciting ideas to take the library to the next step,” Sedgwick added, saying she purposely has not worked on a community survey and a strategic plan as this should be left for the new chief librarian.
While Sedgwick is confident in her choice to retire, she admitted it’s not entirely easy to leave a job she’s done for 35 years.
“I’ll miss the staff, I’ll miss the library clientele,” she stressed. “It’s a very social job; a librarian is a community face.
“People want to know what you’re reading. They want you to help find reading material and make recommendations.
“I still leave the library with a bag of books every night,” she added. “I do love books and I love reading, and so I’ll never be short of things to do when I retire.
“I definitely won’t quit using the library.”
Sedgwick said she’ll spend her free time to travel, enjoy hobbies like pottery and glass fusing, and practice playing her viola and double-bass, which she plays in the Borderland Community Orchestra and the Rainy Lake String Orchestra.
Sedgwick, who originally hails from the Owen Sound area, started the job June 1, 1977 fresh out of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario.
“I answered an ad and was interviewed in Toronto, and so came to Fort Frances not having seen the library, which was very brave,” she noted.
“I had to look Fort Frances up on the map.
“I think at that point, I had to use Minneapolis as the guidepoint, and thought, ‘Oh, I can be as brave as Mary Tyler Moore,’” she chuckled.
“So, I got the job and moved up here,” added Sedgwick, who recalled she took two flights to get here, making the mistake of thinking she could wait to get a bite to eat and use the washroom on the second flight from Thunder Bay to here.
“I saw this orange and purple bird. It was a small plane that I wasn’t expecting,” she smiled.
Sedgwick arrived in Fort Frances and met the man who would be her future husband, Dave, the first week she was here.
“I came intending to stay two years to get some experience,” she said. “I met my husband the first week and the rest is history.”
Many things have changed over the years. When Sedgwick started at the library, for example, the museum was located in the same building.
Books have come out in various formats, first as LPs, then cassette tapes, CDs, and now digital downloads. Likewise, the number of large print books increased greatly since Sedgwick arrived.
And in recent years, e-books have come on the scene.
“That’s something that is changing all the time,” she reasoned.
In 1987, the local library started to automate its system—the first one in the region to do so outside of Thunder Bay. A major undertaking, the two-year project involved inputting all of the information from the library’s card catalogue system to a computer file.
“It eliminated a great deal of daily filing,” recalled Sedgwick. “The card catalogue upkeep was a huge task.”
The role of computers also has changed—even in the past few years.
The old library building had six public access computers. The new one has 20 and wireless Internet service, not to mention the Shaw Communications room with its smart board and videoconferencing capabilities.
Sedgwick explained the role of the library is much greater than “a storehouse of books.”
“It expanded to become an information centre, and now it’s also a community space,” she remarked, adding the new library features a fireplace lounge, study rooms, and a meeting room.
Likewise, the new library has attracted different clientele and seen a significant increase in the number of clients.
The scope of children’s programming also has grown. Back in the 1977, for instance, the “Teddy Bears Picnic” drew 30-40 children; now it draws 500.
“When I first came, I was amazed by the children’s department,” said Sedgwick. “It was much larger than those in many libraries in similar-sized towns.
“And then when we moved to the new building, we wanted to ensure that we had at least the same size children’s department as we did in the old building.”
Another important change during Sedgwick’s tenure was the founding of “Friends of the Library” in May, 1996.
“They were formed when we received some significant provincial government cuts,” she explained.
“‘Friends of the Library’ formed to help us over that period,” she added. “They’ve contributed significantly over the last few years.”
“Friends” have bought a new circulation desk, new lounge furniture, and security system, as well as made a $50,000 pledge to the new library. They continue to support children’s programming, sponsor special programs, and help the library buy equipment beyond its budget.
“They’ve been a very important arm,” stressed Sedgwick. “And some of the original, founding members are still there, along with some staff members who have retired.”
As for the future of the library, Sedgwick said she sees the opportunity to develop more community partnerships and to use the technological capabilities of the new facility more.
She also foresees more funding spent on e-resources and less on books, particularly non-fiction.