‘The library is the most demo
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.