By Andru McCracken
The remarkable librarian Naomi Balla-Boudreau is leaving McBride. She has decided to take a position in Deep River in the Ottawa Valley, north of Algonquin Park in Ontario, it’s very close to Mackey, the hamlet she grew up in.
“My family and some friends from back home sent the posting,” said Balla-Boudreau.
Initially she dismissed the idea, but it worked on her.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “So I applied.”
She looks forward to being closer to family.
“We haven’t invented a good way to travel quickly across this country,” she said.
Balla-Boudreau said that on returning to the tiny hamlet of Mackey as a young person after a few years outside the community she realized that everything was happening out of the community’s library. It is what inspired her to study the field.
Balla-Boudreau led the McBride and District Public Library through a period of tremendous growth, not only in programming, but the physical space too.
In April 2016, a referendum was held on whether or not to borrow funds to allow McBride’s Library and Museum to move to building on Main Street.
The issue was hotly contested and the side in favour of moving won.
“It was a close vote,” recounts Balla-Boudreau. “53.6% in favour.”
She remembers getting ready to host a children’s literacy program in the old facility by flipping a heavy table on it’s side and sliding it into the nonfiction aisle.
“And nobody else could sit anywhere,” she laughed.
She said that the space couldn’t accommodate all of the activities the community needed and wanted to host.
“We worked really hard to get this new beautiful space,” she said.
“Clearly, the project, this move to Main Street was divisive. I feel like we’ve come through it and learned a lot. Sometimes we didn’t always communicate back and forth well.”
Balla-Boudreau said that as the library has settled into the new location she feels community support growing.
“I hope that we have a reason for every single person to come in, whether to curl up with the newspaper, a music jam, connect with our lawyer for free legal advice, see a new exhibit, come sing songs with us, or take home a good DVD,” she said.
Remarkably, this was her first post, she came straight out of Dalhousie University in Halifax with a Masters of Library and Information Science Studies back in October of 2011.
Balla-Boudreau said that it didn’t take long for McBride to have an impact on her.
“It was a community that felt like home right away,” she said. “In the first week here I remember going to the Ozalenka Hiking Club’s AGM and helping out making apple pies in the Elks Hall Kitchen. I’ve loved it from the beginning.”
Balla-Boudreau thanked her staff and board of directors.
“We have a fantastic network of community partners,” she said. “Volunteers make a big difference to our organization and we are pretty lucky.”
Glenn Foster, Chair of the Library board said that Balla-Boudreau managed to build bonds within the community that didn’t exist before.
“The Library has become a centre point within the community. That is to her credit,” said Foster.
He said that the way she interacts with people is what has made her time transformative.
“When you see her interact with people you feel comfortable,” said Foster. “As a board we just wish her well, she has been an absolute credit to the library and the community.”
Foster said that one testament to her work is that the library membership continues to grow each month.
Dannielle Alan, the Robson Valley’s Regional District of Fraser Fort George Representative said Balla-Boudreau has been a treasure.
“It is hard to quantify the good and energy and positive enthusiasm she has brought to the community,” said Alan. “She will be sorely missed. I really wish her well moving back to her hometown, I can’t fault her for that at all.”
Alan said that Balla-Boudreau was the calm positive person at the centre of the project to move the library.
“She stopped things from getting heated, found opportunities to collaborate, help people get along and find out what they had in common with each other.”
Balla-Boudreau claims to have gained a lot from her time here.
“McBride has taught me a lot about library services and the kind of role librarians could have in the community, and also what hard work and enthusiasm can mean. I’m looking forward to taking all these lessons back to the community I grew up in.”
“The Robson Valley has a really neat [ethos], there is a kind of spirit of creativity and let’s make things happen our way,” she said. “I will take that with me I hope.”
Balla-Boudreau said it is an exciting time for libraries in general.
“The way we learn is changing, the way we use technology, what we are looking for out of our public spaces is changing.”
In McBride the library has become the epicentre of community driven programming, like jam nights, Lego club, scrabble sessions, chess tournaments, literacy programs and a community garden program.
Balla-Boudreau said the library is still growing as they settle in.
“This space is busy, which is wonderful. The trick is to figure out how to keep doing everything we have always done and still have time and resources to try new things and be flexible to respond to whatever the community needs.”
Next, the McBride library is going to develop their outdoor spaces.
Balla-Boudreau said Deep River is a community of about 4000 people.
“They seem like a keen bunch, with engaged volunteers and they are doing some great work. I’m looking forward to joining.”
The McBride and District Public Library Staff and Trustee’s welcome the community to join them in wishing Balla-Boudreau farewell through an evening of friendship, food and music Saturday, January 25th 5:00-7:00pm at the library. Bring an appetizer or dessert to share along with any words of goodbye.