Books at long last
Library facilities re-open to the public and students

Maria Canton
Northern News Services

Cambridge Bay (Feb 28/00) - High school students in Cambridge Bay now have access to a library for the first time since August 1998.

Some 5,000 books have been catalogued and shelved in a renovated duplex that is home to the community's temporary library facility.

That is a far cry from the 17,000 books and many archives that were lost when fire destroyed the Kiilinik high school and the combined library and heritage centre during the summer of 1998.

While a steady stream of donations -- both money and books -- have flowed into the community since the fire, students and the public have had to make do without a library for more than a year and a half.

"We've had a few fits and starts, but we've had students using the temporary library since the beginning of this month," said Kim Crockatt, chair of the May-Hakongak library committee and president of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society.

"The students have really been suffering because they haven't had access to a library since the fire."

But thanks to the tireless work of community members and the charity of other libraries, the public and two cities that share the same name, the library is open for business.

"Cambridge, England still hasn't stopped (fund-raising) and they alone have raised just over $20,000 and Cambridge, Ont. has donated $2,000," said Crockatt.

"We've had an amazing amount of books come up from the south from libraries and people who went through their collections and donated what they could."

The school has been operating temporarily out of four buildings around the community: two for Grades 7-12, one for the office and one for the library. Construction on the new school and library isn't expected to be complete until January 2002.

Vice-principal Judy Cherniak said that while the Internet has been one source students could use, it does not compensate for a library.

"Not having a library hurts the students in many ways. On a very practical level, it limits the resources that students and teachers can use as alternatives to textbooks," she said.

"And when you're trying to promote reading for the sake of reading and enjoyment, it isn't easy when there isn't access to books."

The ordeal has been more difficult for students in the upper grades who need to learn research skills and write research papers.

"What we did was make do with ordering some materials for classroom use -- each of the buildings has sets of encyclopedias and some materials other than texts."

As of last week, however, the library opened its doors to the public once again.

With a new policy in place limiting the number of books to be taken home to only three -- and not more than two on the same subject -- literacy programs are up and running and things are slowly returning to normal.

As for the heritage centre, the society has focused their energies on saving money and applying for funding to open a cultural centre separate from that of the library.

Many of the originals or copies of the oral histories and photographs have been recovered from other communities, or the Prince of Wales Museum where they were in storage.

But the society is once again facing the expense of turning the unedited material into transcribed and translated documentaries or books.

An extensive and irreplaceable Northern book collection was also lost in the fire.

"At first it was very heartbreaking, but after all of this time, everyone is so enthusiastic about putting things back together," said Crockatt.