By Judi Lees

Iris Loewen is passionate about books, libraries, research and literacy.  How fitting that the Sechelt Public Library Association recognize the recently retired Head Librarian with the establishment of the Iris Loewen Endowment.  Grants from this fund will support programs and activities at the Sechelt Library.          

When Iris and husband, Les, moved here in June, 1999, she was overjoyed to step into her job at the library and was instantly impressed. “I found the people using the library very knowledgeable about authors and topics.  Many are extremely curious and it was a joy to work with them.” This librarian who had received her second degree in Library and Information Science from The University of Western Ontario in 1995 describes a library eloquently as “a safe, neutral place in a community where people come and go, each with their own reason. To me, it is the heart of a community.” It is clear that Iris loved serving this community. Of course being surrounded by books is a dream job for a book-lover, however, she says that in retirement she will truly miss the people. As well as the library patrons, the staff and volunteers at Sechelt Public Library are dear to her heart. She was instantly overwhelmed at the enthusiastic volunteer program – there has been as many as 60 volunteers involved. While the position of a librarian seems to be researching and aiding readers to find books, speaking with Iris, it is quickly evident that there are on-going projects under the auspicious of Head Librarian.  Upon arrival on the Sunshine Coast, she noticed there were fewer families using the library than she had experienced at her previous jobs. “Children’s services are a huge interest of mine and one of my goals was to increase our numbers of children.” She set about to do this but stresses that “no one is successful at anything without working with others. I had so much assistance from teachers and other organizations.” When Iris met Jane Davidson, the producer of the Festival of the Written Arts, they discovered they had a similar dream. This was spring, 2007 and they both had a wish list to start a program on the Coast that would bring children and authors together.  In November, 2008 the Celebration of Authors, Books and Children, was launched. The popular program that sees well-known authors reading their work to children in schools and libraries, is a joint initiative between the Sechelt Public Library, the Festival of the Written Arts, the Sunshine Coast Arts Council and the School District. Says Jane Davidson: “She brought a passion for children’s literature and seemingly endless energy to the position.  She is a great collaborator.”   Iris lights up when she talks about the children’s library programs that increased the numbers of the younger set at the library.  She recalls: “One of the most memorable authors was probably Richard Van Camp whose book, " Welcome Song for Baby; a lullaby for newborns ..was read to parents and babies at the library’s annual Birthday Party for Babies. He was simply enchanting.” Iris, who states that we are fortunate in Sechelt that we have First Nations people as a constant reminder of how important traditions are to a society, feels the word ‘literacy’ is sometimes misinterpreted. “It means so much more than reading, it can be everything from reading a best seller to filling out a form on a computer.” As someone who has worked in libraries for 35 years, she embraces new technology and isn’t concerned that people research on Google or read blogs.  She sees everything as a form of reading and adds the interesting point that today you need to “use all the tools and use them in the best way” while she quickly adds that she would be extremely disappointed if books ever disappeared.          

Once you start talking about books with Iris, you are off on a whirlwind. She reads a diverse selection from mystery stories to fantasy tales, from best sellers to the reading list of the Festival of Written Arts. She credits the decades-held festival for creating such an avid following of readers in our community.           “It is an honour to have the Endowment in my name,” says this humble, retired librarian.  “I think it was being in the right place at the right time.” However, it seems the community has been honoured to have Iris serve in the library.           Donations to the endowment may be made by sending a cheque payable to Sunshine Coast Community Foundation directly to the Foundation, giving it to the Library to forward to the Foundation or by uvisitng teh Give page on our websie.  Please instruct that the Foundation add the gift to the “Iris Loewen Endowment for Sechelt Public Library”. A Loonie campaign held December 1 to January 29, 2010 raised $3,060 towards the Endowment Fund.                                                               -30-