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12,000 books in library that binds James Bay

On Monday, the James Bay community will have a new book-lined living room.

On Monday, the James Bay community will have a new book-lined living room.

When the sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ James Bay Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library opens its doors, residents will have 12,000 new, great-smelling books to choose from and a wonderful new space in which to enjoy them.

Large windows bring abundant natural light into the 7,150-square-foot space, on the corner of Superior and Menzies streets. High ceilings and white light fixtures lend a sense of airiness to the library.

“There are areas for sitting, reading, engaging in conversation, using the computers and Wi-Fi space,” said Maureen Sawa, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Public Library, as she gave a tour of the new branch on Thursday.

“There’s a beautiful children’s area and lots of corners for people to come and read the newspaper. We do like to think of our branch libraries as community living rooms, so that’s something people will find very welcoming.”

Stepping into the front lobby is like visiting a bank. Instead of ATMs, two AMHs — automated materials handling systems — are on the right-hand wall. The technology, developed exclusively for libraries, combines self-service check-in with automatic sorting.

The machines scan barcodes on the books as they are returned, then roll them onto a conveyor belt where they are separated into different carts. The technology, already in use at the Esquimalt and Langford branches, leaves staff free to deal with patrons.

“This library is a space for people of all ages and all wants and activities,” said Jennifer Windecker, director of public services for the GVPL.

The community living-room space has comfortable seats, a mobile charging station and laptop stations with bistro-style seating. People are welcome to bring in coffee or a sandwich, plug in the laptop, do some research or watch a movie.

“It’s my favourite space,” Windecker said. “It’s kind of a gathering space. We wanted to make use of the design of the beautiful windows.”

In community information sessions, residents said newspapers were important, Windecker said. Five different newspapers, as well as magazines and chess games, will be available.

The new branch has an area just for teens, away from the children’s area. It’s a place where teens can do homework and research or read through the collection of graphic novels.

Adults can work on resumés or check their social media on a bank of 12 computers. The computers can be reserved in advance. Patrons are entitled to two one-hour sessions per day. There is also one adaptive computer workstation station, Windecker said.

One of the most wonderful things about opening a new library is providing the community with a new collection of books, she said. The 12,000-item collection includes the latest fiction and non-fiction books for adults and youth, audio books, music on CDs, feature films and TV series on DVD and Blu-ray, video games, graphic novels and large-print books.

Popular mysteries, sci-fi and romance are on mobile shelving units that can be moved if more space is needed for programs and events.

Younger readers can choose from a selection of board books, picture books, information books, readers, beginner chapter books, novels and comics. Books will also be available in French.

A study room named after Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, who served on Victoria city council from 1866 to 1899, holds six to eight people and can be booked 30 days in advance. Gibbs was the first black person elected to public office in B.C.

A community meeting room for as many as 60 people has been named after Songhees elder Elmer Seniemten George for his efforts to protect the Lekwungen language. The room will be open after hours. During the day, garage doors roll up to allow people to use the space. The room has a universal washroom and a kitchenette.

Pillow-shaped lights float over the pint-size chairs and tables of the children’s sections. There are three children’s computers with special software and comfortable areas for parents to sit with their children. Activity panels on the wall and the puppet theatre are expected to be popular.

“This facility is second to none,” said board chairman Rob Martin. “It’s going to add such value to this community. … To finally have this as an anchor to the community is huge.”

Martin’s favourite place is the children’s section.

“I love the fact we have an ability to create an ownership for the kids so they know they can come to a specific location and it’s theirs. … We talk about this being a living room for the community. That’s because we’re dealing with a lot of young families who don’t have the opportunity to have that extra space to let their kids play. But they can come here and play with the puppet theatre and all these resources,” he said.

The library’s ever-popular summer reading club, which had 8,100 children across Greater Victoria last year, will be offered at the James Bay branch.

Last year, when the City of Victoria launched a campaign to name the new library branch, it quickly became apparent there was strong public sentiment in favour of honouring local First Nations. City council consulted the Songhees and Esquimalt nations and selected the Lekwungen word for the James Bay area, sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ, pronounced s-hweng hw-ung tongue-oo-hw.