Victoria library's local-authors collection gives writers a chance

Susan Hayes manages a commercial property office in Victoria, but her real avocation is writing science fiction/paranormal romance novels, 31 so far.

But none of Hayes’ books, self-published or by small independent houses, appeared in a public library until last year. Greater Victoria Public Library, with its Emerging Local Authors Collection, first gave Hayes’s novel 3013: Renegade a space. She now has nine books, four paper and five digital, at the GVPL’s section for new, local writers.

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“Seeing those books out there, loud and proud, I had to bring my family and my friends to see,” Hayes said in a telephone interview. “It was really cool.”

The two-year-old Emerging Local Authors Collection is an initiative by the GVPL in which outgoing chairman of the board Kevin Murdoch takes special pride. Featured Victoria writers range in age from nine to 90-plus. The collection features 162 books and 88 ebooks by 127 authors. The Vancouver Public Library even took notice and is following suit.

“It’s a really neat thing,” said Murdoch. “It’s a really big deal for authors to get their books in the library.”

Now, after five years on the library board, the past two as chairman, Murdoch, an Oak Bay councillor, is stepping down as chairman of the 19-member board of directors. He will stay on the board as a member, as Colwood Coun. Rob Martin steps in as chairman.

The GVPL is a substantial public effort. It operates 11 branches with 190 full-time staff on an annual $17.6-million budget. It serves the 315,000 residents of 10 Greater Victoria municipalities, all of which have council representatives on the board. Municipal councils also nominate community volunteer board members.

Despite its size and complicated governance, the library is always focused on improving service for its patrons, said Murdoch, who takes pride in the organization’s efforts to keep it financially viable.

Inflation keeps costs rising, mostly from salary increases. But Murdoch said the board and staff have slowed down the annual rate of increase, from about seven per cent years ago to less than two now. They did that in part by scrapping under-used and duplicated resources. Certain databases of obscure information were eliminated, while the GVPL enhanced relationships with other libraries — for example, the University of Victoria — with an eye to letting certain collections slip if they were available elsewhere.

Committed community members have also increasingly seen the GVPL as a place to donate money. Recently, a small collection of Arabic books aimed at refugee newcomers was made possible with a donation, at no cost to the GVPL.

Meanwhile, the library continues lending out and maintaining its collection of more than a million items, including, books, CDs, magazines and ebooks. Its branches and buildings also provide spaces for community groups to meet, and for public computer access.

The library also offers hundreds of participatory programs, from lessons in advanced Scrabble techniques to introductory computer skills sessions and junior reading programs.

That has prompted the GVPL to form partnerships, now more than 100 of them, with community groups that bring expertise of their own.

Murdoch noted the library recently partnered with a group dedicated to preserving seeds of heritage fruits and vegetables. The group had seeds and horticultural knowledge, but needed space and cataloguing expertise, and the library was able to help with both.

Another partnership is with the Institution of Lifelong Health at the UVic to present seminars on chronic-pain self-management.

The GVPL has worked hard to turn itself into a living room for the community, a place for families to go to relax and read, sometimes aloud to young ones. Some branches even have play areas for the very young. The days of stuffy, quiet spaces are no more.

Murdoch said in the years he has been on the board, the library has added an outreach service, with a van carrying books to places such as homeless shelters and community events.

Dubbed OLiVe (Outreach Library Van), the van carries books, along with a table, chairs and display boards, allowing it to create a pop-up library anywhere.

The library has also added an electronic book collection, an expensive undertaking given the prices and restrictions demanded by publishers. Large publishers often impose costly restrictions on e-books to protect their profits and those of authors. For example, they want libraries to buy an ebook again after it has been loaned multiple times, to simulate wear on a real paper book: 26 times in one case, after one or two years in another.

Or, if an ebook is loaned out twice in the same time period, one publisher demands that the library pay twice.

Another publisher agreed not to limit libraries’ ability to lend out its ebooks. But the upfront cost it charged was far in excess of that for a regular book.

So, the GVPL is now part of a nationwide consultation effort with other libraries and publishers, with the aim of making it easier for libraries to manage ebooks in their collections without robbing publishers of profit or authors of royalties.

The last few years have also seen progress in terms of physical branches. The GVPL opened its Langford Heritage Branch in April 2016, work on a James Bay branch is in progress and Esquimalt is putting plans together for a new branch.

“Really, there has been more movement in the last four years than there was in the last 20,” said Murdoch.

Maureen Sawa, GVPL chief executive officer, praised Murdoch’s leadership of a large and varied board of directors, pointing to the library’s new multi-year strategic plan, 2016-2020.

The plan contains nine separate goals, including increasing branch accessibility and bridging the digital divide.

“Kevin made a major commitment to steering that through the community consultations, the board and the staff meetings,” she said. “I just can’t say enough.”

Martin, who will replace Murdoch as chairman, said community commitment to sustaining libraries is growing.

“Our community is starting to understand how important libraries are,” he said. “It’s really a nice thing.”

Martin pointed to the outbreak of “fake news” during the United States presidential election as something that underlined the importance of libraries.

“There is now a movement within the Canadian library systems to provide a portal for citizens to go and find information that is not conjectural or, well, fake,” he said.

“We are definitely going to be reinforcing that. This is why it’s important to have a library in your community.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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