The Town of Blue Mountains Library CEO, Sabrina Saunders was recently appointed to the position of president of the Ontario Library Association (OLA). The new role consists of a three-year commitment, beginning this year.
“This is not something that I have ever contemplated doing but when they offered, I gladly accepted the position,” Saunders says. “It was one of those things that if others think you can bring something to the table, it is your responsibility to do so.”
The OLA serves all Ontario libraries including both english and francophone public libraries, First Nations, school, academic and specialty libraries. The association was founded in 1900 and today has more than 5,000 members.
In her new role, Saunders will be responsible for co-ordinating the OLA’s annual conference, as well as planning and executing numerous workshops and conferences throughout the year.
“OLA has the largest annual conference in all of Canada, so not only do our local libraries from all of those sectors come, but we also have many from across the provinces and territories because we are the premier event and association in the country,” Saunders adds.
The Town of Blue Mountains deputy mayor, Rob Potter, who also sits on the Town of Blue Mountains Library Board, says Saunders is a huge asset to the community and this nod from the provincial association confirms it.
“We are very proud of Sabrina’s involvement and the level of respect she has earned from her peers and others in her vocation,” Potter says. “She is a tremendous value to this community. She has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge that goes beyond running a local library. As board members, she keeps us involved and encourages us to get involved in things beyond our local library and to learn as much as we can about how libraries operate.”
Saunders began her role as CEO with the Town of Blue Mountains Library in 2017, which was a tumultuous time for the library, the library board and town council, something that Saunders says attracted her to the position.
“There were some difficulties that the library was facing at the time and that I found very exciting to work with,” she says. “Not that we ever want to deal with difficulties, but I felt like I had what was needed to bring a community together and put the library back into a position it should be at – as a community hub and a treasure for this community.”
A year prior to Saunders taking on the CEO role, the Town of Blue Mountains Library had taken over operations of the Craigleith Heritage Depot Museum. When this occurred, library staff were laid-off and told they would have to re-apply for new positions in a "reorganized" structure. The decision caused an uproar in the community.
“I am a strong believer that libraries are here for social justice purposes. We bring equity and we bring change into our communities. Libraries are community builders,” Saunders says. “So, when you see a library that has lost the ability to make that change, and to be that catalyst for that community, it was very exciting to be able to come in and say let’s get this moving again.”
Since 2017, both the library board and the Town of Blue Mountains town council has seen a change in personnel.
“Everyone loves the library and believes strongly in the service we provide, so people were very willing to work together and move forward,” she says. “Today, we are seeing fewer people coming to our board meetings and writing letters, and I think that is really saying that we have made that turn in the right direction that our community is happy with the types of things that we are doing here.”
Prior to coming to the Town of Blue Mountains Library, Saunders held the position of CEO at the Six Nations Public Library for more than 10 years, and has been highly involved in the provincial library programs for several years. She has previously held the position of conference stream planner, board member of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries and vice-chair of the Ontario Public Library Guidelines Accreditation and Monitoring Council.
“I have been involved with the accreditation council for a good decade. And, that is the group that actually establishes the guidelines of what the standards are for the province. So, this new role is really a natural progression. I have done many of the parts and now it is looking at the whole of it.”
As Saunders begins her new role, she looks forward to more collaboration with other libraries across Ontario.
“Through this position, I would like to be able to focus and promote how we can collaboratively work together to raise library services across the province. The more we share, the more we learn.”