Skip to content

F. G. Miller school librarian retires after 33 years of achievement

Miss Lilly has left the building, and she’s taken librarian Denise Bjorkman with her.

ELK POINT - Heads up, F. G. Miller High School  - Miss Lilly has left the building, and she’s taken librarian Denise Bjorkman with her.

Miss Lilly, who Bjorkman says, “some believe is part leprechaun, but there has been no proof,” is said to have magically appeared after Bjorkman attended a conference in 2006 and played a major role in many of her accomplishments since that time, although strangely enough, the two have never been seen together.

Bjorkman has been at FGM since April 4, 1989, when the library was located in what is now the computer lab.

“I began my journey amongst the stacks of books in that location. In 2006, I packed up all the books and moved into the wonderful space our students enjoy today,” formerly the home economics room and entrance prior to that renovation. “I began with typing catalogue cards on a typewriter and alphabetizing index cards in a physical card catalogue. I re-catalogued every book into first the Columbia Library System and have seen the online system change twice.”

Soon after the move to the present location, and shortly after Miss Lilly’s appearance, came the beginning of the Accelerated Reader (AR) program in 2007, which required all the books to be labelled. Bjorkman calls the AR program, which pairs books with Crusaders at their level and interest, “The driving force that really changed the library - doubling the circulation and changing the reading culture at the school. Library, now called Learning Commons, culture is much more dynamic and fun. We have much more variety of interest and reading levels than ever before.”

Bjorkman introduced reading incentives throughout the year – the House Hundreds draw with four winners each reporting period and the Dread Dragon Challenge that reached 200 per cent plus of its goal. Students were divided into what she calls the Houses of eARth, “and Crusaders read for House Crimsaen, Greenslaeve, Sapphaere and Silvaen. Our top readers make up our AR Royalty and receive reading gifts at year-end. These incentives help to inspire our Crusaders to read and succeed each year.”

The library’s collection changed considerably over time as well. When Bjorkman first took over the library, “non-fiction was used more, but with online resources our non-fiction is getting smaller and smaller. That being said, the majority of Crusaders still feel the most comfortable with physical novels, thus our fiction section is expanding to fill the gap.” While digital book sources are available, “they don’t seem to be trending here yet.” Today’s most popular genres are fantasy and science fiction, and “our female readers are exploring a larger variety of genres than when I started. The online catalogue makes it easier to find interesting books with the click of a button.”

The school’s leadership has changed during her 33 years at FGM, but Bjorkman says, “I have been blessed to have worked for administration who advocate reading and a love of literature. Principals Jim Hawkins, Barry Martini, Laverne Wilson, Colin Bjorkman and Darcy Younghans have been strong supporters of all my ideas, incentives and programming, both in the library and the school-wide programs run through the library. They all let me inspire with reckless abandon!”

Much of that reckless abandon came after the arrival of Miss Lilly, “Miss Lilly had the inspiration to re-create our new library space into a Barnes & Noble/Chapters-style space. She sectioned the space into genres and went full out fundraising to upgrade tables, add new chairs, soft furnishing and paint, and implemented activities into the lunch breaks.

“She raised over $25,000 over the next year by approaching CNRL, received a $15,000 donation, and with community’s support, Café Read-a-Lot was born. Without the support of the school and surrounding community, her vision would never have been realized.”

Miss Lilly, Bjorkman says, promoted changes in libraries “before ‘learning commons’ was a thing at conferences in Jasper, Banff and Drumheller and shared her knowledge with sister librarians in our school division as well as other school divisions and has appeared at a few Northern Lights Library System conferences. I’m positive that all Crusaders, and anyone who meets her, for that matter, will remember her - she is definitely unforgettable.”

Miss Lilly’s achievements include “putting a little zing in that reading thing and making our library learning commons a great place to be. One of the thing I am most proud of is that 33 years of Crusaders will remember the time they spent having fun in the library during karaoke, lunch time chats about everything and anything, learning to knit, building Lego, playing games, watching movies, and finding that special book that started a love of literature that would last a lifetime.” Some of those special books were elementary level, read “just to get those few points to make goal, because reading a children’s book now might be the same book that they read to their children in the future because they remember it from AR.”

From a school-wide view, Bjorkman’s achievements include 26 years of Crusader craft sales where the community “gathered to celebrate the season and walked home with local treasures and a big bag of Scholastic books. Those events not only brought the community together, but helped to develop our school collection.”

Keeping the memories alive by maintaining the Wapiti Archives has been “a 33-year labour of love, because I am an alumna of the Class of ‘83 and the history of F. G. Miller Jr./Sr. High School shows us where we have been and where we are going.” Maintaining those archives included collecting Elk Point Review articles and all the events in the 33 years from posters and flyers, “creating yearbooks, first as a student in 1981, ’82 and ’83 and then as a staff member with students from1992 to 1995, and then again from 2017 to 2021 on my own. In the past few years, the yearbooks have been digitized and can be seen on our website for all alumni to see, minus the current ones which are available to purchase. The last digitizing project was the blueprints from the original buildings to the current school plan.”

Another favourite event was organizing the yearly after school event “welcoming our Elk Point Elementary Grade 6 Tigers and seeing them change from frightened Tigers to newbie Crusaders at Orientation Nights where we played and got to know each other.” She also delighted in creating their “I am Crusader” time capsule forms in Grade 7 “and then being able to give it back to them in their graduation gift bag when they finish Grade 12.”

Bjorkman says that, “Throughout my career my motto has been ‘See a need. Fill a Need.’ Throughout my time at FGM I’ve created, with the help of staff, many other events like Above the Limit which promoted getting 85 per cent or above on quizzes, tests and projects, Crusader of the Week, which recognized accomplishments big and small, three murder mystery events using Science Alberta Foundation kits, author visits, Crusaders’ International group, and last year’s RAK Week, which have all been captured in our yearbooks.

“I guess a crazy achievement would be that I have been the librarian here for more than half the time the school has existed! It’s time to retire!”

Does she have any regrets?

“Only that I didn’t have enough time to do more for our Crusaders. I have to thank Jim Hawkins for giving me the chance to share my enthusiasm and passion for reading with 33 years of Crusaders who have passed through the building. I hope that in some small way I have touched their lives for the good, because they have touched mine, even if I don’t remember their names on the street – I remember the faces. I am going to miss our wonderful staff and thank them for letting me help them make memories with our Crusaders.”