Social-support services annex likely not part of library reopening plan
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When the Millennium Library reopens, a space to connect vulnerable people with social supports could remain shuttered.
On Tuesday, Winnipeg’s top bureaucrat told reporters the downtown library’s community connections space, which is designed to connect vulnerable patrons with shelter/housing, social assistance, mental health, addiction services and other supports, likely won’t resume at that time.
“Community connections very likely (is) not immediately reopening. We focused on … getting the library proper open as quickly as we could. (For) community connections, that discussion will take place later,” said Michael Jack, the city’s chief administrative officer.
Jack said the community space that officially opened in April 2022 has a distinct function that goes beyond traditional library services.
“That community connections space is relatively new and it was being staffed with library personnel. So that’s beyond what their typical jobs were as library workers,” he said.
The Millennium library branch has been closed since Dec. 11, when 28-year-old Tyree Cayer was stabbed to death inside the building. Four teenage boys have since been charged in his death. The downtown library reopened to limited services on Dec. 23, allowing patrons to pick up and return items that they reserve online. Folks who need to warm up during cold weather can also now do so in the lobby.
Jack said he does not know how long the community connections space could remain closed.
Mayor Scott Gillingham has promised the site won’t reopen until at least some new security changes are in place.
“The connection to services is very important but I think also, first and foremost, the library has core functions… so, again, looking at a preliminary set of measures to open the library is important… but (we’re) keeping in mind that there are community connections that some Winnipeggers have relied upon. We’re not losing sight of that,” said Gillingham.
There is no firm date for resuming most of Millennium’s services.
Jack said he’s confident it will reopen by the end of January.
“I do think you can expect to hear from us soon about the reopening plan and it’s our intent to have it open soon,” he said.
Gillingham had a similar take.
“I hope that we can reopen the library before the end of January. I hope that we can reopen the library as soon as possible,” he said.
New safety measures are still being determined, and the return of hand-held metal detectors and bag searches, which were imposed from 2019 to 2020, is a possibility, Jack said.
Some groups protested against those airport-style security measures when they began, arguing they violated privacy rights and created a barrier to using the facility.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, a longtime supporter of the community connections space, said some patience is needed for library services to resume after the violence.
“I think the emphasis needs to be (on) the diligent work that all parties are really doing to make sure that community safety is job No. 1. There have been a lot of community discussions about the fact that Millennium Library is more than one thing, including a profound community connections space,” said Rollins.
A leader of the union that represents city library staff said an extended closure of the community connections space would be noticed.
“It concerns me. I think it’s a resource that’s most certainly utilized, I hear nothing but positive feedback from that. And I think that there needs to be more discussion around the benefits of such a resource,” said Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.
Delbridge said he would prefer to see the service expanded and the provincial government become its primary funder.
— With files from Malak Abas
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.