‘The li­brary is the most demo

Times Colonist - - Nit -

Get Greater Vic­to­ria Pub­lic Li­brary Board chair­man Paul Ger­rard talk­ing about pro­vin­cial cut­backs and he al­most pounds the ta­ble.

“There’s money for a new roof at B.C. Place but not for li­braries? And this is from a gov­ern­ment that pro­motes it­self as be­ing in favour of early learn­ing and lit­er­acy and then they yank fund­ing, but find $500 mil­lion for a blasted sta­dium? It re­ally strikes me as get­ting their pri­or­i­ties to­tally mixed up.”

While B.C. cut its pro­vin­cial fund­ing, Al­berta in­creased its by 39 per cent in April.

For­mer li­brary board chair­man Neil Wil­liams said fund­ing has al­ways been a strug­gle, but he’s never seen it like this. And that’s a shame for a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion that of­fers uni­ver­sal ac­cess to knowl­edge for free to any­one who walks through its doors, he said.

“The li­brary is by far the most demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion we have. It’s a lit­tle mir­a­cle.”

If you have proof of res­i­dence in the re­gion, you can get a li­brary card. The card gets you free ac­cess to al­most one mil­lion items in Greater Vic­to­ria Pub­lic Li­brary’s nine branches. Most other com­mu­ni­ties on Van­cou­ver Is­land, in­clud­ing four in the cap­i­tal re­gion, are part of the Van­cou­ver Is­land Re­gional Li­brary. Its 38 branches have a to­tal of 1.2 mil­lion items avail­able. Each of the li­brary sys­tems is funded largely by its mem­ber mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Don’t have a fixed ad­dress? You’re still wel­come at a li­brary. Most morn­ings at the down­town Vic­to­ria branch, sev­eral home­less peo­ple are in the group wait­ing pa­tiently for the doors to open at 9 a.m., stand­ing along­side stu­dents, fam­i­lies and se­niors.

The B.C. Li­brary Act man­dates that li­braries are free to pa­trons, but it’s also part of the li­brary phi­los­o­phy to pro­vide ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion for all.

“The pub­lic li­brary rep­re­sents a pool­ing of re­sources on be­half of the com­mu­nity for the ben­e­fit of all,” said Barry Holmes, the CEO for the Greater Vic­to­ria Pub­lic Li­brary.

And that doesn’t mean just pro­vid­ing books, a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion among peo­ple who don’t go to li­braries. They re­main a mi­nor­ity — about 60 per cent of B.C. res­i­dents have li­brary cards.

Li­brary con­tent re­flects so­ci­ety and changes with the times. Com­put­ers are now a large part of li­braries, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to the In­ter­net and nu­mer­ous data­bases. The 213 ter­mi­nals in Greater Vic­to­ria li­braries are al­most al­ways full, with a line of peo­ple wait­ing to use them.

Some look up job sites: John Will­ing was re­cently looking for work as a labourer be­cause he doesn’t have a com­puter at home. A row over, a woman was try­ing to down­load a so­cial as­sis­tance ap­pli­ca­tion, while a woman be­side her looked at horoscopes for the week. A lit­tle boy tried to play a com­puter game while his mom down­loaded a book onto her iPod.

At the new John Goudy branch in Lang­ford, pa­trons can even sign out lap­tops.

Should li­braries be fill­ing this need? Why don’t they just stick to books and keep costs down? Do li­braries re­ally need mag­a­zines in 12 lan­guages and a movie night for male care­givers and their chil­dren?

“Peo­ple may as­so­ciate books with a li­brary, but li­braries are re­ally about con­tent and pro­vid­ing ac­cess to it,” Holmes said. “Our man­date is to sup­port ed­u­ca­tion, lit­er­acy and recre­ation. What is im­por­tant to one per­son might not be im­por­tant to an­other.”

The Saanich Cen­ten­nial branch is lead­ing the prov­ince with its com­puter games. They are the high­est cir­cu­lat­ing item in the li­brary, draw­ing in chil­dren and teens in droves. “It bears out that what we’re

Both Greater Vic­to­ria and Van­cou­ver Is­land re­gional li­braries are well used, both in per­son and on­line, as the num­bers be­low in­di­cate.

Jen Can­ter­bury reads with her chil­dren, from left, Xy­lus, 4, Amika, 2, and Cay­lus, 2, at the Saanich Ce

Peo­ple not only read books, but use com­put­ers at the li­brary.

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