The American novelist Norman Cousins is credited with saying: “A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.” If that’s the case than Vancouver Island should be fountain from which a wealth of ideas spring – thanks to the efforts of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) system.
Ranked as the fourth largest library system in the province, the VIRL serves clients all across Vancouver Island (with the exception of the Greater Victoria area) as well as the town of Bella Coola on the central coast and the island communities of Haida Gwaii. In total the regional library system serves a population of more than 430,000 via its 39 individual library branches and its innovative eLibrary and ‘books by mail’ services.
Headquartered in Nanaimo, the Vancouver Island Regional Library first opened its doors to the eager minds of the region in 1936 and at the time was only the second regional library system of its type in North America. Presently the VIRL operates with budget of more than $20 million and during 2018 saw nearly 3 million visitors enter its various branches, individuals who checked out nearly five million separate items.
But a modern library is much more than a collection of books and magazines – in many ways the online world has enhanced rather than detracted from the value of the local library. Operating more than 220 computer systems within its various branches the VIRL’s users participated in more than 53,000 WiFi sessions last year, while more than 140,000 people took part in the 5,800 individual programs offered by the library system.
This is a far cry from the early days of the VIRL. When it first opened its doors, the entity that would eventually blossom into today’s regional library operated from six branches, structures that housed fewer than 13,000 books. The fledgling library operated with a budget of less than $9,000 to serve a total membership of just over 6,000 persons.
An interesting bit of demographic data is that presently 83 percent of the VIRL’s members are adults, with only 17 percent of its membership being children – a statistic the regional library would like to change. To appeal to a younger audience, and to instill the joy of reading in the region’s youngest citizens, the VIRL operates many programs specifically geared toward the younger set. These include special story reading sessions, enhanced online tools and even helping to construct a local skate park on Gabriola Island.
While having grown and evolved over the decades to better serve the changing needs of its audience, the Vancouver Island Regional Library continues to plan for the future, having renovated many of its branches in recent years and having willing embraced the latest in digital delivery systems to make the library experience exciting and appealing for members of all ages.