Residents of St. Albert start hitting the polls on Oct. 5 for early voting for the 2017 municipal election, but voters will be deciding on more than the next mayor and councilors. They’ll be securing the future of St. Albert’s new branch library. The new branch library is more than just books on a wall: it’s an investment in our community. This is because — as Barbara Hahn, member of the St. Albert Public Library Board explains — the library creates programs that bring generations together. “A great example of generations connecting through literacy at the library is the Reading Buddies Program,” Hahn says. “Reading Buddies is designed to cultivate a love of books and reading to support the development of early literacy skills.” The program began in 2011 as a partnership with Grade 2 teachers in St. Albert to enable reluctant readers to practice their skills in a fun and relaxed environment that has all of the resources a budding reader would need. Today it offers children ranging from Grades 1 to 3 the opportunity to gain literacy skills in a safe atmosphere. But that safe space is quickly disappearing as the program grows year over year. “When I first volunteered with the Reading Buddies Program in 2015, we sometimes worked with the other children in the program room at the library,” Hahn says. “On several occasions the program room was booked for meetings or other programs. “We needed to find alternative space somewhere else in the children’s department to read and play literacy games. Fast forward to 2017 and the Reading Buddies Program is even more successful due to the dedication and commitment of local volunteers and library staff.” But St. Albert is growing, and the demand for the program is high. St. Albert’s children are stuck waiting for the literacy program to give them skills that are necessary for the rest of their lives. “The fall session of Reading Buddies is full and children have been put on a waiting list,” Hahn says. “I took my great niece to Reading Buddies yesterday and was shocked to see the program room is even more crowded and is just too small to hold this popular program.” It’s no secret that literacy is important for young families. A study by Decoda Literacy Solutions found family literacy programs have a huge impact on children’s cognitive skills. Children who had access to ongoing reading programs had higher literacy skills during their teenage years, which helped get them through high school. Literacy programs benefit St. Albert in a multitude of ways, and the benefits can only get better as the space for the programs grows. But that space doesn’t have room to grow and spinning off the program into an alternative space, like a clubhouse or community centre, doesn’t work. Those spaces do not have all of the resources of the library that help to inspire and engage young readers. After practicing with their Reading Buddies, kids need to have access to other library materials to build on their enthusiasm for reading. This is critical to building their literacy skills. “We need a larger space,” Hahn says. “The library could provide more literacy programs but resources are limited. There is currently not enough space to expand literacy programs.” Visit http://www.yesforthelibrary.ca/ today to learn more about the potential changes coming to St. Albert’s literacy programs.