History of the Library

Jake Epp's Biography

Jake Epp

Born on September 1, 1939 to a Mennonite family in Manitoba, Jake Epp was a high school history teacher in Steinbach, Manitoba before entering politics.

Jake Epp was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) in the 1972 election for the riding of Provencher, which was the home of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Whiteshell Laboratories. He appointed the first Steinbach Library Board and oversaw the hiring of the first Head Librarian.

During his career, Jake Epp held seats on the cabinets of Indian and Northern Development (1979), Health and Welfare (1984), and Energy (1989). He was the first person of Mennonite heritage to sit on a federal cabinet.

Jake Epp retired at the 1993 election, and returned to private life. From 1993 until 2000, he was Senior Vice President and Vice President at TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.

The Library was honoured when Mr. Epp returned to his hometown to open the new Jake Epp Library on June 21, 1997.

Mr. Epp has since been appointed the Chancellor of Tyndale University College in Toronto.


Leonard Epp, a local pastor and Ted Klassen, principal of the junior high school approach town council with a request for a library. Council does not see the need for a library and feels services offered by school will just be duplicated.

1969

Mary Barkman organizes Friends of the Library Group. They make presentations to town council, gather members and support, and work diligently towards a regional referendum with the goal of establishing a regional library in Steinbach with branches in smaller surrounding communities.

1971

Voters soundly reject regional library proposal.

1972

Passage of a library Bill 50 in the Manitoba legislature makes establishment of a town library mandatory if 8% of electorate petition the council. Melvin and Elvira Toews collect these signatures and present them to council with a request that the library be located in the new Civic Centre. This request is denied. Council offers space in the old Kornelson School instead.

1973

February - Jake Epp appoints the first library board and the first librarian, Iris Loewen, is hired.
October - The Steinbach Public Library opens for the first time.

1974

Gladys Barkman becomes the head librarian. During her nine-year tenure memberships at library will increase ten fold.

1983

Marsha Holland appointed head librarian. Oversees major renovations and reconstruction of library premises

1985

In 1985 Valerie Kasper became head librarian when Marsha Holland stepped down.
Prior to 1985 the library hours were:
Mon-Fri 2:30 – 5:30 p.m.
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.
In 1985 the hours were increased to:
Mon-Fri 1:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

June 26th marked the completion of major renovations for the library building which also houses the New Horizons Club and the Auto-City Alcoholics Anonymous. There was a contest to “Guess how many items will be borrowed from the Library on June 26th”. The closest guesses were 424 and 480 with the actual number being 450.
A good part of the year was spent learning to adjust. The library had to adjust to new surroundings, a new head librarian was adjusting to increased responsibilities as well as hiring and training several new staff members.

1986

In January, Phyllis Froese volunteered to assist Valerie with the Story Hour. The program became so popular that it became necessary to hold 2 sessions and Phyllis became a paid employee.
The library had possession of one of the rooms downstairs and it was completely finished and ready to use for Story Hour as well as for rental purposes.
Once again there was a significant staff change as 3 staff members resigned in a 3-month period and 3 new staff members had to be trained.

1987

During 1987 the library experienced its greatest circulation increase with an increase of 31% from 1986. Such an increase lead to an increase of costs to the library as more staffing hours were needed so if was fortunate that the grant from the Town and the province was also increased during 1987.
The summer months continue to have a significant increase in circulation and it was decided that for 1988, extra staff would be used during those months.
Hanover Municipality was approached about the possibility of joining to form a regional library and the municipality declined. For the first time, however, they made a donation to the library.

1988

The year marked the 15th anniversary of the Library. Circulation continued to grow. The Board decided that it was time to make a serious study of the possibility of beginning a video collection. The two greatest needs were space and funding. It was decided that was a goal to be worked at until achieved.

1989

The Town council made the decision that Boards of Commissions would need to change their members more frequently. As a result the Library Board began a system of regular turnover. The Board had stayed the same for quite a few years and had a comfortable working relationship together and with the Head Librarian.
The Town also gave a “one time only” grant of $5,000.00 for the purchase of video tapes and equipment to allow the library the opportunity to begin a new collection to offer to the public. With the introduction of a new collection, space throughout the library became a concern.
Due to ongoing concerns for a number of years about loss of material through theft, the Board began a serious examination of options in the matter of purchasing equipment that would give greater security. This would be a high cost purchase and the issue was still just an idea.

1990

In conjunction with discussions about theft of material, it was decided that it was time to do a complete inventory of the entire library to discover exactly how much had been lost when compared to the card catalogue. As this was a task that had not been done for some years, it would prove to be a very large and daunting job. A general weeding was also done at the same time and although the project was not fully completed, a book sale was held at the Clearspring Mall in November to sell the books that were removed from library circulation.
By June, the video collection was catalogued and ready to begin circulation. The response from the patrons proved that adding this service was a good decision.

1991

For the first time in its history the Library’s circulation did not increase. A committee was formed and a survey prepared to poll the patron’s ideas. The results indicated a high level of satisfaction with the library services, however there were many suggestions for improvements, which the Board examined. Some were implemented quickly and others required further study.
The Library agreed to partner with a Literacy group assisting women in learning English as a second language.
The record collection was examined and discovered to be largely in poor condition, therefore it was decided to discontinue circulating records and to sell the entire collection. The only audio items that continued to circulate were the children’s cassette tapes.
The library’s financial year is from January to December. Library funding, however, was not received early in the year. The Town grant was sent in the latter part of the year, so it was impossible to have a positive cash flow in the early year. To offset the shortages that happened at the start of the year the library had a line of credit from the Royal Bank in the amount of $15,000.00. It was decided that the library needed to increase the line of credit to $25,000.00. The Board also made the decision to retain a surplus each year, to be used the following year. This would decrease the amount spent in interest to the bank.
The Story Hour program changed from 2 afternoons to Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning, due to many requests from parents for a morning class. This program continued to be well attended.
The problem of mischief in the public areas of the building, which housed the library, continued to be a problem and video cameras were installed so the public areas could be monitored from inside the library.
Bruce Taggart and Valerie attended the PLS conference in Spring and the discussion and information on computers and computerization in rural libraries was a large part of the conference.

1992

John Neufeld, who had been chair of the Library Board for many years, stepped down but remained on the Board. Bruce Taggart took the position of Chair.
One of the main responses from the 1991 survey was an overwhelming request for increased hours in which to visit the library. The result was that the library hours were increased as follows:
Mon – Wed 1:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Thur & Fri 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Valerie used the quiet morning hours doing the majority of the work involved with ordering and cataloguing books and other administrative tasks. Afternoons were much busier as she assisted with the circulation desk, took phone calls and many other tasks. The budget did not allow extra staff hours for Thursday and Friday mornings so Valerie looked after all circulation in addition to her full workload.
It was during this year that the community first started talking about the need for additional space. The library was situated on the top floor of the two- story building, which used to be a public school. Due to the weight of books, shelving had to placed directly over beams. It was not deemed safe to put shelves of books on floor space that was not reinforced from below. That limited the number of shelves that could be added in the library. The other problem area related to space was the staff work area. The entire workspace consisted of a small area behind the circulation desk. This area held 1 desk for the head librarian and 2 desks for all remaining tasks such as Inter Library Loan, compiling statistics, repairs, phoning patrons, etc. As book orders arrived and were unpacked they quickly exceeded all shelving space and stacks of books had to be made on the floor. Staff needed to take turns at the work desks.

1993

This was a year that began a long process that brought the library into the age of computers.
The library received a $35,000.00 grant from the Manitoba Community Services Council. This provided for the purchasing of computers, software and also labour for data entry.
The library purchased the software Microcat from TKM. Trishia Penner was hired under the Challenge Program for the summer and she used the card catalogue to enter basic information onto disks. These disks were then sent to Microcat who imported complete records, which were then sent back to the library. The Library uploaded these records into the database. This plan called for some editing of records. For each disk, there was a report of how many good and bad hits included. A good hit meant a complete record to match the ISBN that was sent in. A bad hit meant either nothing was found, or a similar record was found, but possibly would not match the actual book that the library held. There was a significant number of bad hits that were corrected, but it was discovered much later that there were more records that were incomplete or had information that did not match the actual book held by the library than was thought. However by late fall, the initial process was complete and editing was started. Entering computer records for new books purchased also began.

1994

For the first time in many years, the circulation numbers declined instead of increasing.
Automation was still the main project being worked on. Stephanie Burdic was hired to oversee and do most of the computer entry.
The library was still struggling with a lack of space, both for shelf space, as well as workspace for staff. A new library building was still just a matter of discussion by the Town Council.
For the first time in several years the library again offered a Summer Reading Program for elementary school aged children. The staff needs for this program were met by having someone work in the library through a work experience program.
Long time staff member and Assistant Librarian, Sue Nichols retired.

1995

While the process of data entry was becoming close to completion, the next huge task was to physically put a barcode in all 35,000 plus books. That was a large undertaking, which required closing four half days over a six-week period. The task was undertaken with the help of all staff members putting in extra time and also with the assistance of many volunteers.
Val Kasper, Stephanie Burdic and Doug Graham (computer consultant for the library) attended the Manitoba Library Association Conference to research a variety of software designed for Libraries. The choice was STACKS, a program designed by Michael Diehl, from Lorette, MB.
Plastic bar coded Patron cards were also purchased to replace the old paper cards, and the patron data base was entered. As Patrons came into the library their old paper cards were replaced with the new card.
October 2nd is the day that the library officially became automated. Although the process had some minor glitches, it was felt that the transition was quite smooth. The entire staff was excited by the knowledge that we now knew exactly what books were circulating, when any book was due, and it became a simple matter to place books on reserves for patrons. Another major component of the new software was its ability to track statistics and print reports at any time. This meant a saving of many hours of staff time, which were badly needed in other areas.
The year also brought funding from the Computer Access Program (CAP) bring us a public access terminal so people could access some public bulletin boards. Along with the computer they also provided a youth who did some research as well assisted a few people in learning how to access these bulletin boards.

1996

The first full year of automation brought such good results that the library staff knew the decision was a good one, and that the timing was right. While a few patrons were not happy with the changes the majority were very pleased with the improved service.
The long awaited decision from the Town Council regarding a new library was finally a reality. A new library building was going to be the Steinbach Anniversary project for 1997. Many hours were spent examining blueprints, making plans for the layout in the new building.
Formation of a “Friends of the Library” group was an encouraging development. This group along with the Library Board and the Staff spent time raising funds for the new library.
CAP still funded the public access terminal and funded a summer term for a youth to be on site again.

1997

The culmination of many months of planning and anticipation occurred on June 21st, the official grand opening of the Jake Epp Library. Along with the new building came a new name to honour a man who was one of the first people involved in organizing a public library in Steinbach. He was also a High School teacher, and the local Member of Parliament for many years.
Planning the physical move was a daunting task that required much planning and many volunteers. Gathering enough boxes in which to pack 40,000 books was just one of the many things that needed to be accomplished. Penner International was most generous in donating one of their big rigs, which could hold everything and transport it from one location to another. The Town of Steinbach provided the actual labour so that the Library simply needed to direct the loading and then once in the new building the Staff directed the unloading of boxes and furniture to the correct spots.
The move required the library to be closed from May 7 to June 16th. The closing was well publicized and patrons were encouraged to check out books to keep them in reading material during the time the library was closed. The theory was that any book checked out, was one less to pack and the patrons would be returning them to the new library. First, all the books had to be packed into boxes. With the help of the entire staff and many volunteers that was accomplished in one day. The Town of Steinbach had purchased from Wearing William some additional new shelving for the library to be installed in the new building. Wearing William did all the installation of the new shelving and they also dismantled all the shelving in the old building, and reassembled it in the new building. With the shelves ready, the next task was to unpack the books and put them back on the shelves. Again the library was most fortunate to have the help of volunteers in this undertaking. While the process of unpacking was going on, the final touches to the parking lot were taking place. There was some concern that wet weather would delay the completion of the parking lot and delay the opening, but in the end everything was ready for the appointed day. The library’s book drop was opened a week before the library was open, so the public could return books.
The first full day the library was open proved that the community had missed the opportunity to check books out and that they were very excited to see the new building. The previous record circulation for one day would have been about 1200. On opening day we checked out 2,218 items and 3,903 items were returned. Needless to say handling over 6,000 items in one day was completely overwhelming, and it was impossible to re-shelve everything on that same day. The following morning found library staff coming in to find stacks of books filling every counter space, and most of the floor space of the staff work area. Every staff member working that morning spent the entire time shelving books.
The grand opening was celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Jake Epp, who had retired from political life and moved to Alberta, returned to Steinbach for the opening. Mary Barkman, a key figure in the founding of the library, was honoured. There were library tours, music, and refreshments.
The Town Council requested that the library open on Sundays to provide community residents an option for a family oriented activity. Extra staff was hired to assist existing staff cover the hours on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Near the end of the year the Board decided to make a change and Val Kasper was asked to resign. Simone Penner stepped in as interim until a new librarian was hired.
Moving into the new facilities allowed enough space to increase the public access computers to two stations. The CAP internship program was beginning to catch on and people were starting to come to the library to learn how to access the internet.

1998

The Board hired a new librarian to begin in January, but her term lasted only three weeks as she decided that the position was not the right one for her. Once again the Board went through the hiring process and in March Irmy Nikkel became the head librarian. Irmy had grown up in Steinbach and she was glad to return to her roots and put her education in Library sciences to good use in her old hometown.
It was decided to allot some staff hours towards planning monthly events for children, and occasionally for adults. A new venture generally takes a while for all the bugs to be ironed out, but overall it seemed to be a valuable idea and many activities were planned and well attended.
Due to the flooding in Grand Forks, the public library there lost all its books. The library began a drive to gather donated books in good condition to present to Grand Forks to help them in such a devastating loss. The community was advised of the plan and many people gave generously to the cause.
An increase in volunteers aided the staff in getting things done. The library decided to highlight Canadian authors so the public could easily spot them on the shelves. With help from the volunteers, all books with Canadian authors received a maple leaf sticker affixed below the spine label. Using the maple leaf for Canadian authors became part of the normal procedure as new books were received.
The library was able to take advantage of two grants. One was through student employment which allowed us to hire a summer student for 8 weeks to assist with library related tasks. The second was to once again have a CAP youth intern with enough computer skills to teach people how to use the public access terminals to access the Internet.
Due to budget restraints the Board made the decision to discontinue Sunday hours and Friday evenings.

1999

Once again, a new year required a new librarian. Irmy Nikkel regretfully resigned her position to take up a new position elsewhere.
Simone Penner filled as interim and by fall was hired as new head librarian.
The Melvin C. Toews Reading Garden was planned and would be installed in 2000, to commemorate the man who had served for many years on the Board and was a passionate library supporter.
The library continues to benefit from grant programs. A summer student took the majority of the work of the Summer Reading Program working with a Staff member, and again the library was able to offer Internet training.

2000

The library was able to get outside funding so a book mobile service could be offered to senior’s residences in town. Once a month, a staff member took a selection of materials to Resthaven/Woodhaven, PCH and Fernwood. It did not take very long to realize that this was a service that was appreciated.
The Melvin C. Toews Reading Garden became a reality and was completed in June.
The Summer Reading Program was again offered and enjoyed by a good number of children and the number of people taking the offer of Internet and computer training continued to grow.
The Story Hour program offered during the winter months continued to be a success with demand higher that spaces available.

2001

This was another year full of change and difficulties. Resignations came from the Board Chair, the head librarian, the assistant librarian, and two other staff members. From a total staff of eleven, three resignations were effective in June and the last resignation took effect in August. The Board hired retired High School librarian Burt Suss to fill in as Interim Librarian until a new librarian could be found. Burt encouraged the remaining staff as they attempted to keep the library running as smoothly as possible and was instrumental in improving staff morale. While serving as interim, Burt did a thorough weeding of the adult non-fiction section, which had not been done in some time.
The Board hired Loraine Trudeau by mid-year to take the position of head librarian. Two new staff members had been hired during the summer and the position of assistant was filled from within the existing staff. A new staff member was hired to take over the accounting duties.
The end of the year saw the library once again stabilizing and beginning to get positive feedback from the community again.
In November the library received another grant from Community Connections in the amount of $10,000.00. With these funds additional counter space was added to make room for three new Internet computer stations also purchased with the grant. With a total of 6 public access Internet stations, that area became very busy with the number of users increasing dramatically.
Statistically the library reported a very small decrease in circulation.

2002

The year saw a continuation of stability in the overall performance of the library. Many positive comments were received from all across the patron base and circulation improved.
The library received several donations and grants that allowed the purchase of some significant new items. The C.P. Loewen foundation made a significant contribution and resulted in the purchase of a Closed Circuit TV for visually handicapped people to use free of charge. This equipment greatly magnifies print material so that anyone with visual disabilities, can read the local newspaper, personal correspondence, etc.
The rest of the funds purchased a substantial number of literacy audio kits designed to assist people are learning English as a second language. The selection included lesson plans and worksheets accompanied by tape and CD for verbal instructions. Also purchased were a variety of stories for adult interest in 4 successive reading levels. A tape accompanies each book so the correct pronunciation of the words can be heard while reading along in the book. This was a great tool in the partnership the library made with South Eastman English & Literacy Services. SEELS used the multi-purpose room without charge for tutoring sessions and they were able to point their clients to the resources found in the library.
The Lion’s Club donated a hydraulic table for the CCTV so that was very easy to adjust the height for the viewing comfort of the individual.
Steinbach In Bloom donated $800.00 to the library to purchase books on all aspects of gardening so the entire community could benefit from those resources.

2003

ABC Canada Literacy Foundation gave us a grant for books as well as a special promotional event. We held a Family Pajama Party which was a huge success and the library was packed with families.
The Library received a private donation specifically to purchase a good collection of puppets to enhance children’s programming.

2004

First annual celebration of Family Literacy Day, which included having our mayor, Les Magnussen, declare January 27th as Steinbach’s Family Literacy Day. We had over 100 families attend the event.

2005

The Library continued the annual Family Literacy Day tradition with the addition of Harvest Honda’s sponsorship of the event, as Honda Canada became a partner with ABC Canada Literacy Foundation.
We were able to enlarge our Large Print collection and purchase some new shelving due to a grant from the Steinbach Credit Union.

2006

The Jake Epp Library began a new partnership with SHERC (Self Help Education Resource Centre). SHERC has a collection of items geared to provide members of the community with resources to increase health and wellness in all aspects. The Library includes their titles in our database to increase awareness of these resources, and we identify these items as belonging to SHERC and also have bookmarks that we hand out to provide the SHERC location information.

2007

The Royal Bank Foundation gave the library a $5,000 grant to purchase Playaways. Playaways are an audio book in a format similar to an MP3 player and appeals to young people. We are excited about the possibilities for this new collection in regards to encouraging young people to visit the library and renew their interest in reading.

2008

In conjunction with Family Literacy Day the Library introduced a mascot, a brown dog. A contest was held to name the mascot and the winning name was Paige Turner.
We participated in a province wide book display contest during Manitoba Book Week. We were excited to win 2nd prize for our Manitoba Authors display that was created by staff member Adrienne Toews.
South Eastman Early Years Regional Team provided the library with a grant to begin a new program called Baby & Me. This program, for ages 0 to 3 years and a parent, was designed to encourage early literacy activities in the home and encourage new parents with helpful ideas.

2009

Due to lack of space, our annual pajama party for Family Literacy Day could not be held and instead we hosted a come and go birthday party for mascot Paige Turner.
A repeat grant from South Eastman Early Years Regional Team allowed us to repeat the Baby & Me program (0-12 months) and add a Toddler & Me program (1-2 years).
Due to a repeat grant of $5,000 from the RBC Foundation, Royal Bank Steinbach, we doubled our collection of Playaways. The circulation statistics on these devices proved their value and we were very excited to provide more titles.

2010

Early in the year, the City of Steinbach announced it’s intention to expand the Library with construction beginning in 2011. Work was begun on plans.
A 100 Acre Wood Celebration was held in June. All three grade one classes in the Steinbach elementary schools were invited to attend. The classes arrived at different times and moved around a variety of stations and activities. The event commemorated the years of pleasure that A.A. Milne’s stories have provided for children.
On July 22nd, Premier Greg Selinger was in Steinbach to announce that the Province of Manitoba was supporting the expansion of the Jake Epp Library with a grant of $600,000. The expansion plan would see the 8,200 square foot library reach a total of 18,000 square feet.
Friends of the Library raised funds and sought grants to provide seven new computers to replace the old public access computer stations. These computers have a high volume of usage and updated computers are greatly appreciated.
A fall municipal election brought changes to the library expansion plans. The final outcome was a commitment to proceed with the expansion with a reduced budget and square footage.

2011

September 13th was sod turning to mark the beginning of library expansion. A chilly and rainy day could not dampen our enthusiasm.
The Ladies Auxiliary of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion donated funds to purchase another Victor Reader for the library. These special readers with large sized buttons are available to CNIB members to borrow so they can listen to audio books.
Through local business man Garth Reimer the library has begun receiving new German books from Hans-Heino Ewers, a literary critic in Germany. These books are providing German readers with wonderful new titles to read and enjoy. They include fiction and non-fiction for adults, youth and children.
Due to expansion construction moving ahead faster than planned, the library announced on December 15th that the closing date was moving ahead from March 2012 to January 7th, 2012. While it was exciting to have construction move ahead quicker than expected, the library was faced with very short notice to packing everything in the building, find storage space and a temporary office for administration.