Calgary’s libraries are emerging as increasingly important to a thriving community—in 2015, the Calgary Public Library welcomed 6.2 million visitors through its doors.

This may seem strange in the age of the internet, a time when conventional wisdom holds that libraries are an anachronism. But Brenda and Greig Nicholls see it from the opposite perspective, as a local organization with which the community needs to catch up.

The Nicholls are part of Calgary’s philanthropic community, and over the years have supported numerous causes. The Calgary Public Library is the first cause they have actually joined, not only with their time, but by stepping up with a transformational $1 million gift. As Mrs. Nicholls said, “people give to things that touch their lives.”

Both of the Nicholls call themselves “avid readers” but you get the sense voracious may be a better description. Books have been important to them over the years as individuals but also as parents raising their now-grown son, Alex, a software engineer.

Mrs. Nicholls attributes much of his talent to library and library-connected programs allowing Alex to develop an important combination of artistry and computer skills.

Brenda and Greig are instrumental to the work of the Calgary Public Library Foundation—Brenda as a director on the foundation’s board, Greig as a member of its Council of Champions. Mrs. Nicholls points out, “when you give to the Library, you give to the whole city.”

Perhaps unlike many Calgarians, the Nicholls know that Calgary’s libraries are about more than books and touch many lives in different ways.

One of the least known ways the Library supports the community is with new Canadians, especially refugees, struggling to integrate with new, sometime frightening communities.

As Mr. Nicholls comments, refugees often look at the Library as “a safe place.” The Nicholls tell of a towering young man, a refugee from war-torn Somali, in a library to read a magazine. Sports Illustrated and its basketball coverage satisfied the young man’s interests and help to build his English skills and understanding of North American culture.

Reminiscing about Calgary, where both grew up, Mr. Nicholls commented on the importance of libraries in their schools. He well remembered school visits by the Calgary Public Library’s Book Mobile offering he and his chums a broader book selection.

In the 21st Century, schools are hard pressed to maintain large libraries. “They (school boards) can’t compete with what the (Calgary) Library offers,” Mr. Nicholls said.

They see the recently reinstated Book Mobile, now called Book Trucks, as part of the library system’s support for students, indeed for a cause close to Mrs. Nicholl’s heart – life-long-learning.

Discussing the Library, and their reasons for involvement, Mrs. Nicholls remarks, “there is way more to the Library than just borrowing books.”

Measured by the number of items checked out, Calgary libraries are among the busiest in North America. “I think that will get bigger in the future,” Mrs. Nicholls says.

The Nicholls’ belief in and commitment to Calgary’s libraries is a major factor in their decision to step up as Add In Founding Partners of the Library Foundation’s $350 million campaign. This commitment will be recognised by naming of the Nicholls Family Library at Westbrook Station.

This library is a Calgary first—a transit-orientated library, part of the C-Train system, ensuring access to information, knowledge and support within easy reach of Calgarians.

Through their contribution of time and resources to the Calgary Library Foundation, the Nicholls are helping to create the world’s best public library. The Nicholls Family Library at Westbrook Station will be their legacy to the city that they love and an organisation that has always been a big part of the life of their family.

– Story by Brenton Harding

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