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Chapter closes as librarian bids adieu

Maureen Curry enjoys a book by the fireplace in the new Vernon library’s children’s section. The 25-year employee of the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library, and longtime Morning Star columnist, is leaving to take on a new position as library director of the Grande Prairie Public Library. - Kristin Froneman/Morning Star
Maureen Curry enjoys a book by the fireplace in the new Vernon library’s children’s section. The 25-year employee of the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library, and longtime Morning Star columnist, is leaving to take on a new position as library director of the Grande Prairie Public Library.
— image credit: Kristin Froneman/Morning Star

The city-scape lies beyond Maureen Curry’s second floor office window in the Vernon library.

It’s a view she has been enjoying the past months as the chief librarian of the city’s brand new Okanagan Regional Library (ORL) branch.

Curry has seen a lot of changes since she first came to the branch to work as the children’s librarian in 1987. The most notable being the library’s move into its own, state-of-the art building this past year. However, the view from Curry’s window is about change to a whole different landscape.

After 25 years in Vernon, and 23 of those years writing the popular book column, Off the Shelf, for The Morning Star, Curry is moving on. And while her chapter here in Vernon is closing, a new one is opening as she takes on the head librarian position at the Grande Prairie Public Library.

“Any kind of change is good. It rejuvenates you,” said Curry, who was busy saying her farewells and packing boxes for her Friday departure from the library. “I am leaving this library in good shape, and I have a firm belief that the space will adapt to meet the needs for Greater Vernon for many years to come.”

The move to Grande Prairie is a return home for Curry, who was born and grew up in the Albertan city, with a population of approximately 70,000 people. Its inhabitants are also on the younger side, with the average age of residents in the 30-age range, said Curry.

“This is an opportunity to take a big step in my career,” she said. “Grande Prairie is a vibrant city and one the fastest growing cities in Canada. I’m also going to another new library. It’s part of a cultural centre that was built in 2009. The library shares its space with the art gallery. It is a bit bigger than ours... with lots of windows and light.”

Curry’s journey to Vernon actually began in Victoria, where she first went after leaving her studies at the University of Alberta. She finished her bachelor of arts at the University of Victoria, and then obtained a teaching diploma. She taught at schools in Victoria and Dawson Creek for two years before deciding to make a career change.

“I was faced with the endless position of being a substitute teacher, so I took another look at where I wanted to go,” she said. “My sister was a librarian, and she encouraged me to go look into it.”

Curry ended up getting her master’s in library and information studies at the University of British Columbia. After graduating she received the children’s librarian position at the Vernon library, then shared with the museum and public art gallery in the building that still houses the museum. (The library would later move to its own building next door to the museum.)

Returning from maternity leave in 1994, after having her daughter, Andrea (who is now 18 and living in Calgary), Curry took on different positions at the library, including special projects librarian for the whole regional system.

In 2005, she was offered the position of branch manager to replace then retiring chief librarian Wendy Stevens.

“I was ready to take on a new challenge,” said Curry. “I’ve always appreciated the opportunities the ORL gave me.”

Curry was also instrumental in the concept and planning of getting a new library branch for Vernon, which she says was 10 years in the making.

“I think it’s more of a community space now,” she said. “It allows for people to get together for information and resources and to come together with others. It now allows adequate space for programs that meet the community’s needs for study, work and leisure.”

The new library has also met with the times as information technology evolves, and on how information is delivered and received, she added.

“It’s great to be able to build a library that meets those need now and into the future. The reading experience is enriched now with the variety of experiences that are out there. And libraries are OK with that, to find a balance between modern and traditional.”

Another challenge Curry has taken on since coming to Vernon is writing.

In 1989, two years after she started at the library, Curry contacted The Morning Star’s then publisher Don Kendall about the possibility of writing a book column for the one-year-old newspaper.

“He said yes right away. It used to be a weekly column that was more children’s book focussed. When I got back from maternity leave, (Kendall) said ‘I don’t want anyone else to write this. I want you to continue.’ It was suggested that a biweekly column would be better, so that’s how that started and how it ended.”

Through her column, Curry has been able to let readers know about the publishing world, new and well-known titles and authors, library news and much more. (She also voluntarily wrote the previews for the Vernon Film Society’s film series for a number of years.)

“What’s been gratifying has been the feedback that I’ve received from the community,” she said. “Many have said they’ve enjoyed the titles I’ve suggested and learning about new authors, or about new books they didn’t know we had at the library. I  hope the column deepened the depth and breadth of reading in the community.”

And although she has a lot ahead of her as she takes on her new position at the Grande Prairie library, Curry hopes to keep writing in some capacity, whether for the library’s electronic newsletter or for the city’s daily paper.

“It’s really important for a library to stay connected to its community,” she said, adding these final words:

“When I came here I didn’t know a soul, but Vernon has been so welcoming and friendly. I’ve made so many friends here. It’s so hard to say goodbye. This community is rich and worthwhile. I will take many fond memories with me and I hope the branch of the ORL will continue to be supported as it has in my time here. It’s been a pleasure and an honour.”

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