For the past two years, the local library has provided patrons with a window to a kaleidoscope of worlds beyond the four walls of home.

But the most popular books in 2021 were not necessarily the newest ones.

Cathy Ching is Director of Library Services with South Central Regional Libraries (SCRL).

“In Winkler, the top book is I Spy Fly Guy. That has been checked out 218 times, so I'm thinking that book is hanging on by a thread. The next most popular items are Curious George and the Berenstain Bears. They've been around forever.”

For young adults, Ching says it’s graphic novels all the way.

“Parents didn't like them when they first came out. But if you’ve ever tried to read one - you have to work harder to read a graphic novel than you do to read a regular line-by-line book, because you have to try and follow the story bubble.”

Ching says following a bubble-by-bubble story line challenges readers to venture outside their comfort zone.

The book with the longest waiting list is any new novel by Canadian mystery author Louise Penny. Ching says it's quite common to see ten holds on Penny’s latest offering.

The various branches in the SCRL system – Winkler, Morden, Manitou, Miami and Altona - all specialize in different types of adult non-fiction.

“Morden loves the war history. I think with having the Royal Canadian Legion in the town of Morden that has really been something that they have got onto. Altona and Winkler really like the biographies. Inspirational fiction is also hugely popular in Winkler. It's quite a variety of stuff. And then Manitou, they love the classics.”

During the pandemic, books have become the 'go to' for dealing with isolation.

Whether for reading or connecting with others, Ching believes it’s important that their libraries make people feel comfortable.

“One of the reasons we have music in some of our branches is, when it was so quiet, you could hear the conversation at the desk and sometimes it was a private conversation. So having that noise, people aren't hearing other peoples stuff.”

She likes to have have people come in and feel happy and chatty.

“We're hoping that all of our libraries have spaces where, if you want to study in a quiet place, you can. But otherwise, it's a place where you should feel comfortable coming and talking to your friend or neighbor.”

Eventually, Ching hopes people will be able to come to the library and linger longer.

February is I Love to Read Month, a month-long celebration of all things reading.

If patrons don’t see a particular book in their local branch, that shouldn’t stop them from asking for it.

“We have connections all across Manitoba and outside the province as well. So we can get a book for you from Churchill ... wherever the mail goes. If it's not too new and they will lend it, it will come," said Ching. "Sometimes people are shocked because they order it one day and [we] just happen to hit the post perfectly, it will actually show up the next day, which is crazy when you think about it.”

Ching says SCRL sends out a large amount of books as well, with nearly 4,000 books leaving the Morden branch alone in 2021.

Along with books (in a variety of languages), SCRL branches offer other media such as DVD’s, puzzles and story kits. Ching says people have really taken to audio books, convenient for traveling, walking or listening in the car.

In the future, Ching says they hope to use the Winkler branch to test a self-checkout.

During I Love to Read Month, the library will promote the books on it’s shelves, incorporating a contest with a snugly kit as the prize.