Winnipeg’s Millennium Library

This week I had a personal tour of Winnipeg’s Millennium Library from Irmy Nikkel who heads the library’s Support Services department. I got to know Irmy, a Steinbach native, when she was the head librarian at the Jake Epp Library in Steinbach and I was serving on the Board of Directors there. Now Irmy provides leadership to seventeen employees whose task it is to order, unpack, catalogue and process the 208,206 new items added to the city’s library collection annually. Winnipeg has twenty libraries, the main Millennium Library, which happens to be less than a ten minute walk from my home, and nineteen branch libraries. The giant stuffed moose Irmy is petting in this photo is in the library lobby for this year in recognition of Parks Canada’s 100th anniversary. 

I always access the library via the Skywalk, a covered walkway that allows patrons to walk to the MTS Centre or Portage Place indoors from the Millennium Library. The first thing that greets you as you enter from the Skywalk is this art piece by Cliff Eyland called Untitled. It contains over 2000 index-card sized paintings mounted on the wall, floor to ceiling. Irmy told me the artist is constantly adding to it, so it is a true work in progress. There are binoculars in the Skywalk so you can look at the smaller paintings in the artwork up close if you like. The index cards are reminiscent of the cards that used to be in the card catalogues used to search for library materials before the advent of the computer.

 A $21 million renovation of the library was carried out from 2003-2005. One whole wall of the building is made up of  78 foot high windows which flood the reading spaces with warmth and light. The redesign of the library won a Canadian Architecture award. Just outside the library a new park is being built. This beautiful green space will be open next year.The library publishes a monthly magazine that outlines the many programs it offers.  Almost all the branches have book clubs. This is an idea Irmy instituted when she moved to Winnipeg and got her first job in the public library system at the West Kildonan Branch.  The Steinbach library had a book club and Irmy brought that idea to her new job. 

The library is the busiest destination in downtown Winnipeg–over 4000 people a day visit it. The library has a coffee shop The Human Bean Cafe and a gift shop run by their Friends of the Library group.

This art piece called The Illumination is on the second floor of the library. It was created by Alberta artist Nicholas Wade and is made up of the letters T H and E. The is the most common word in the English language.

There is a special area just for teens. 700 teenagers were surveyed before it was built. They said they wanted a place at the library that had comfortable furniture, computers and access to food and that is exactly what they got.
I was really surprised to see a painting of American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in a Canadian library, but his acts of philanthropy extended beyond his country’s borders. Mr. Carnegie donated the money for the very first Winnipeg library over 100 years ago.

The children’s section is bright and inviting. The carpet in the children’s Aboriginal Reading in the Round section features the footprints of bear, wolf, elk and rabbit.
Irmy poses with one of the many life-size animal characters that decorate the children’s section. It has books for the visually impaired, DVD’s, games, and a collection of dual language books, so parents from other countries can read books to their children in their native tongue while their kids look at the English text which is also included in the book. The library has a special Local History Room with books and materials about the history of Winnipeg and other communities in the province. 

This art piece on the fourth floor pays tribute to the thousands of Chinese labourers who came to Canada from 1881-1895 to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Many of those workers sacrificed their lives for the building of the railroad. Some remained here when the railway had been built and eventually became Canadian citizens. 

Since I live in the Exchange District this art piece by Caroline Dukes on the library’s second floor really caught my interest. Each square depicts a historic building in the Exchange District of Winnipeg.

This bust of Winnipeg’s famous Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carol Shields stands just outside the library auditorium which bears her name. The auditorium is used for all kinds of special library events and can be rented by groups for performances and events. 

Irmy gave me a great tour of the library. I learned so much, but I also realized there are many more interesting things to explore and discover at the library. Irmy told me the Millennium Library is the most popular downtown Winnipeg destination. I’m sure it will be a popular destination for me as well. 

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Filed under Art, Books, Education, People, Winnipeg

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