“Wow! You all are better than Amazon.” —a remark from a library patron upon receiving word his DVD was available for contactless pickup, minutes after requested.

“Thanks for all you and your colleagues do. When I consider the things that could be worse during this pandemic, having no library service invariably figures large.“ —from another patron’s email message

Christine Row was hired as CEO and head librarian of the Mississippi Mills Public Library (MMPL) in August 2018. Nearly three years into her tenure, half of Christine’s time here has actually been as leader of a library in lockdown or otherwise under pandemic restrictions. The aim of this article is to highlight just how lucky Mississippi Mills is to have Christine Row – an enthusiastic, innovative, caring and experienced professional – at the helm of library services here.

First off, in 2021, did you know that 46% of Mississippi Mills residents are active library cardholders? And many of these cardholders are actually families using one library card for everyone in their families. This statistic is highly comparable to North Grenville (similar population) and its Kemptville Public Library (with two branches, like in Mississippi Mills), where 39% of North Grenville residents are active cardholders.1

Pre-2020, people came to the library to borrow books, audiobooks, movies, music, children’s books, and to have conversations, meetings, to participate in summer programs, go to the gardens, attend classes, research, read and view local history material, meet with the Tech Tutor, read newspapers and magazines, attend Almonte in Learning sessions, attend movie screenings, attend games night, borrow museum passes, sign out backpacks, and visit the public health nurse with their babies. Some came to hang out after-school, seek comradery with the Cancer support group, to study, relax, meet people, and use FREE WiFI and public access computers and printing/scanning services.

Post-2020, people come to the library for contactless pickup and via online visits. Yet, guess what? Other than in-person events, meetings and classes, many MMPL services continue uninterrupted and additional services have been introduced!

 

MMPL currently offers contactless pick up of anything in the collections in Pakenham or Almonte, online story time, teachers’ and readers’ resources, book delivery, interlibrary loans, the Seed Library, extended hours of Tech Tutor support by phone, Free access to Ancestry.ca library edition from home, READy to go backpacks, a new website, monthly (and at-times weekly) craft and activity bags for every age group, online robotics and coding workshops for pre-teens, printing and scanning services, upcoming online 3D printer workshops and STEM Summer Camp, book club sets, and the list goes on. Check in at www.missmillslibrary.com

MMPL spearheads community and knowledge building activities in Mississippi Mills and Christine makes small changes that lead to big, positive differences

Christine Row is dedicated to the concept of the library as a central community hub and to extending library services equitably. Perhaps her biggest strength is her vision. She is an expert at making small changes that lead to big improvements in library services and how patrons access various exciting materials. The reorganization of movies and music on the shelves and the way Christine streamlined purchasing, technical work and other tasks resulted in more staff time devoted to programming. Christine updated and reorganized staff roles to facilitate more focussed time with patrons.

Christine also did wonders with the interior of the library by opening up larger spaces and upgrading shelving: making the library more accessible and attractive. (Librarians did all the book removing and reshelving – a massive coffee-fuelled endeavour that took three days!) She remodelled (and she painted) a new study/small meeting room from a poorly used storage area in 2020, and she improved the computer labs. All these actions amount to amazing, new positives for the library and its patrons. Christine is a library champion in every way. Need more evidence? Further library innovations and additions serving all residents of Mississippi Mills:

  • The Ontario Public Library Guidelines and Monitoring Council approves accreditation for Mississippi Mills Public library, both branches – a lengthy, detailed process brought to a successful outcome. Only a limited number of libraries in Ontario have this qualification, which verifies MMPL offers a high standard of library service for the whole community, all three wards (November 2018)
  • Tough Topics titles listed and added to the collection (2019)
  • Laptop computers available to borrow (program started in 2020) tablets (2019)
  • New accessible website, email newsletter to 1000s of patrons (2020)
  • An up-and-running safe, curbside / contactless pickup (mid-May 2020) – one of the first in Ontario – The first day of which, 537 items went out to 98 patrons in 6 hours!
  • In collaboration with the Elizabeth Kelly Foundation, a library STEM Collection was created, with items such as Lego EV3 Robotics, a 3D-printer and Ozobots (2020-21). The library offered workshops throughout the lockdowns: programs that are comparable to what large library systems in Ottawa and Toronto offer in regards to youth programming. STEM programs for years to come are now possible
  • A highly popular puzzle lending program and Mississippi Mills Backyard Garden Program and Seed Library (both in collaboration with Mississippi Mills, 2020 & 2021)
  • Graphic novel collection tripled – in response to demand from youth patrons and their families. This collection is currently the most popular (after adult fiction) (2021)
  • Elimination of all non-resident fees for library users across Lanark County, as of March 2021. This is “leading by example” and done as a sign of goodwill to all of MMPL neighbour communities in Lanark County. Through this decision, library patrons in Beckwith, Carleton Place, Lanark Highlands, Perth, Tay Valley, Montague and Drummond North Elmsley may join MMPL at no charge – and many already have!

“To inspire lifelong learning, provide equitable access to information, advance knowledge and strengthen our community.” This mission is taken to heart at the library. It informs every action of the CEO and the Board. Christine is always accessible and also tries to accommodate any staff or any patron that has a suggestion or need.

 

Christine’s inspiring belief: the library’s future is sharing resources, breaking down barriers to access and being fiscally accountable to library patrons

Christine is skilled in strategic planning and devoted to a teamwork approach to library development. She knows libraries thrive through great partnerships. Library staff collaborate regularly with the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre, Home Hospice North Lanark, Mill Street Books, Carebridge Community Support, EarlyON Child and Family Centres/CROW Lanark and other organizations to deliver exciting programs and to grow responsive library collections.

From the focus groups report, Almonte Branch Space Needs Study, completed by Big Thinking, November 2019: “It has been our pleasure to work with the Mississippi Mills Public Library… Participants at the focus groups were extremely engaged and willing, which is a testament to the library and staff. They truly love the library.”

This article is written to celebrate our community’s love for its library AND to thank Christine Row for all she does. She is an unsung hero, although now somewhat “sung”. Thank you, Christine, for all our awesome library services, successes and cherished moments at both branches – and there are so many more to come! Mississippi Mills is so fortunate to have you.

Submission from Mississippi Mills Public Library staff: Deputy Librarian, Monica Blackburn, and staff, Margo Hay-Goodings, Karen Kiddey, Berta Madrigal Abaroa, Jill McCubbin, Brenda Woodhall, Sheila Robertson, Melanie Girdwood-Brunton and Tech Assistant, Greg Young.

1 North Grenville’s population is 17,316 and has 6806 active library card holders in 2019 = 39%

MIssissippi Mills’ population is 13,299 and has 6137 active library card holders in 2021 = 46%