New Kelowna library branch head looks to library’s evolution

"Libraries are this free, democratic space, staffed with people working to help the public to the best of their abilities.”

Christine McPhee

From mineral exploration to dog agility competitions, new Kelowna Library branch head Christine McPhee has enjoyed a varied and eclectic background. But she says that the most exciting aspects of her life right now are the possibilities and opportunities facing the downtown landmark—the largest branch in the Okanagan Regional Library system.

“The Kelowna Library has been a really exciting place over the past year, helping the plans develop for renovations and new services,” explains McPhee. “There’s this great creative energy and civic engagement happening in Kelowna, and I’m looking forward to increasing the ways the library can connect with and support all the activity happening in the city.”

McPhee took over the branch head position after 28-year incumbent Fern Teleglow retired in August. She started working at the Kelowna branch in March 2015 as the reference and instruction supervisor after moving back to the Okanagan from the Fraser Valley Regional Library system.

Raised in Penticton, McPhee’s path to librarianship hasn’t been a typical one.

“My first degree is actually in geology and I worked as a field geologist before deciding to return to Okanagan College to study English literature and creative writing.”

Then came work as a freelance editor in the Lower Mainland.

“I really enjoyed working with the written word, but being an editor was very isolating and I wanted to connect more with people as part of my job,” say McPhee. “Talking to librarians, they all were very excited about their roles, and I’d always loved that libraries are this free, democratic space, staffed with people working to help the public to the best of their abilities.”

So McPhee got her Masters of Library Information Sciences from UBC in Vancouver.

“I got my first job at a public library in the Fraser Valley and immediately fell in love.”

She feels very lucky to now be back in the Okanagan where she can enjoy personal passions such as cross-country skiing, hiking, and training with her border collie cross and Australian shepherd.

“I even started to learn to sail this summer,” she adds. “I love to be out in nature during my personal time. It’s a balance with my work life, the best of both worlds.”

McPhee looks forward to leading the “great team of people at the Kelowna Library” towards the future of library services, which includes a substantial revitalization of the 20-year-old building.

“I think the biggest challenge for libraries is making the transition from these organizations that were very stable for a long period of time to organizations that are facing constant change. This also presents huge opportunities and we have to learn to be agile and constantly learning.”

She cites the example of a recent program partnering with UBCO and Border Free Bees on the issue of the decline in pollinator populations, The Pollinizing Sessions.

“There were 70-120 attendees at each of these programs – people that were concerned about what they could do to help on their land or in their gardens and passionate about how to make the Okanagan the best it can be,” McPhee describes. “And there’s an appetite for the library to help facilitate this kind of learning and community development. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”

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