Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
RUSSELL – It’s like the plot of mystery novel a member might borrow from the Russell Public Library.
A large, mainly social media movement is growing to “Save the Russell Library” when there’s actually no specified threat against the beloved branch of the Russell Township library system which also includes a branch in Embrun.
It’s more of an uneasy feeling, a suspicion that township council might want to merge the branch on Concession Street in Russell Village into a central facility planned where the Sports Dome is now located, combining it with the existing Embrun branch which was always seen as temporary.
Almost like giving away a plot twist, campaign organizers are getting out ahead of any merger ideas, including with a Russell Lions Club sign at the west entrance to the village advertizing the savetherusselllibrary.com website.
There are no council plans on the books to amalgamate the two branches, stated Township Mayor Pierre Leroux. There are no plans not to either, the mayor allowed.
As council has discussed possibilities for the new central complex – rink(s), swimming pool, theatre, library – no options have been ruled out, he explained. Pointing out that the original municipal Library Master Plan – prior to construction of the new Russell branch – favoured centralization, the mayor insisted “honestly, it’s not even a consideration right now.”
While a discussion occurred about keeping the Russell branch as-is, Leroux said a majority of council decided it was too soon to do that without investigating all the possibilities.
The Russell branch was transferred about five years ago from the old Warner Store on Mill Street to an attractive new brick building named for former mayor Jean Paul St. Pierre who died while in office. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, the branch only offers curbside pickup of materials ordered in advance.
The online petition to save the village’s “cherished community hub” claims users are in danger of losing it and lets council know they want it maintained and don’t want to amalgamate with the Embrun branch.
That branch was once located in the township hall on Notre Dame Street in Embrun but was ejected to make room for a Service Ontario office. Currently located in Pavillon La Croisee French Catholic elementary school, the long term plan was always to relocate the branch to its own site. The branch is currently closed with no service.
Russell petition organizers don’t deny that Embrun needs a new location. However, that doesn’t mean that the Russell branch should close: “Most communities have a neighbourhood approach to delivering library services with a larger central library while maintaining smaller branches.”
Local branches have a “unique value”, the petitioners insist, and there are compelling reasons to keep the village branch open.
Among them are close proximity in all seasons to residential areas and schools widening accessibility especially for children and seniors, and a key location making it suitable for community betterment uses such as computer availability and a cooling centre during extreme heat.
In addition, it’s the only township service site within the village with year-round opening hours; rapid residential growth means increasing numbers of clients wishing to access the branch. One more thing in favour of a local branch: Walkability helps reduce the township’s carbon footprint.
Township Councillor Cindy Saucier, a library board member and village resident, signed the petition and applauded organizers for taking a proactive stance. Not only does Saucier not want the Russell branch relocated, she doesn’t feel the new recreation complex is the best spot for a new Embrun branch.