It’s the end of an era at the Red Deer Public Library on June 28th. That’s Library Director Dean Frey’s last day. He started there in 1989 and has had a front row seat for the last quarter century of change, in Red Deer, as well as at the library.
“I got my library degree at the University of Alberta in 1984, George Orwell’s year,” said Frey, and after working in Edmonton started at RDPL as head of technical services. “When we moved to Red Deer it was completely different. It was a large town and now it’s a small City. It’s doubled in size since then and everything about the library has doubled since then too. Within 18 months they kicked me upstairs and I became director in 1991. I’m the longest serving director of RDPL.” The library was founded in 1914, so Frey was there for quarter of its existence. “A pretty successful quarter,” he said.
He soon realized the library had to expand and helped launch a $2.6 million fund drive to grow it.
“We started construction in ’93 and by ’95 were open in the new (downtown) facility. It was my first big accomplishment, but Hazel Flewwelling (wife of Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling) was the person who managed that fund raising. We had a lot of fun. That’s been a hallmark of my time here, the support from City Hall and the community,” he said. “We’ve had tremendous support, really strong support. We’ve also focussed on technology, major changes in technology, bringing in computer technology, expanding our web presence, including an online catalogue, so you didn’t even need to come into the library to have access to some pretty cool resources.”
The north side library in the Dawe Centre was completely renovated in 2010 and the downtown branch just finished major renovations, “Plus, in our centennial year, 2014, we’ll open our third branch in Timberlands,” he said. “Keeping our facilities fresh is a really big deal.”
At the downtown branch other major milestones during Frey’s tenure included revamping the children’s library and opening an award-winning space for teens, the Mezz.
“We can do interesting things because we’re smaller and we won a lot of awards for it, mostly recently one from the province for our election forum project. We also won a national award for that.”
RDPL won national awards for its literacy program and marketing outreach programs, and several awards from the Canadian Library Association. “If there was an award for winning the most awards, we might get it,” said Frey with a smile.
“The basis of our success is our staff. We’ve got a killer management team and really strong staff out front. We’ve had a chance to recruit some really awesome people. We’ve had really excellent library boards over the years as well and the last key to our success is partnerships.”
Frey developed partnerships with Red Deer College, both school boards, the museum, Kerry Wood and several City social agencies.
Frey, a lifelong movie buff (he’s responsible for the magnificent collection of library movies available for loan), jokingly quotes Hyman Roth, a gangster character in the second Godfather movie; “’Hyman Roth is still in business because he’s always made money for his partners.’ That proactive reach into the community is really key.”
Frey added he’s got no regrets and loves his time in Red Deer. He warmly recalls his two children growing up here (they are now in university in the east) as the City grew bigger. The future probably holds moving to Vancouver Island when his wife Dixie, also a librarian who retires this fall. “We’re going to do it (retirement) slow and do all those exciting retirement activities, like riding our bikes, reading, listening to music, cooking, travelling, pretty much everything except golf. For me, retirement is just another opportunity. And I feel I’m leaving the library in a really good position.”
On Monday, Duncan Anderson, RDPL board chair, announced that Christina Wilson will be the new chief executive officer, starting Aug. 6. She has Master of Library and Information Science and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Western Ontario.
Anderson describes her as “A leader and a manager – an effective communicator who will build on the exceptional legacy of the library.”