Despite closed doors, libraries are as busy as ever

The physical branches are closed, but public libraries across Vancouver Island are as popular as ever in the age of COVID-19 — maybe more so.

From movies to ebooks, music to online courses, the library’s digital resources are in hot demand as people look for ways to pass the time in social isolation.

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In just two weeks, the Greater Victoria Public Library has processed 400 online applications for new library cards, while the Vancouver Island Regional Library system has received more than 600 registrations since closing its branches.

“I think that’s just a testament to the fact that people are hungry for services, they’re hungry for learning opportunities, for media, for books, for all sorts of things and being able to provide those resources in an online environment is huge for our communities,” said David Carson, director of corporate communications and strategic initiatives with the Vancouver Island Regional Library

Daphne Wood, director of planning and engagement with the Greater Victoria Public Library, said people are looking for things to read, to watch, to listen to and to learn. “We have all of those things available on our virtual branch.”

The B.C. government recognized that important work Wednesday by announcing a one-time $3-million investment in public libraries. “I think this is crucial for everyone in B.C.,” Education Minister Rob Fleming said in an interview. “We have to practise strict social distancing so we can get through this pandemic together and protect lives. But also, it’s a time for people to nourish their souls, and stay connected to one another and to libraries, which are such a beloved part of communities across B.C.”

Fleming said it’s difficult for libraries to operate behind closed doors, so he hopes the additional money will allow them to expand Wi-Fi capabilities, enhance online programs and buy scanners, tablets, microphones and other technology.

The B.C. Libraries Co-operative will get $1.8 million to expand common online collections for all libraries, while the remaining $1.2 million will go directly to libraries. “We are thrilled that the government is investing in public libraries across the province,” Wood said. “We were really pleased to see the investment go to the B.C. Libraries Co-Op to support consortium pricing for collections that we can all share. That really makes sense.”

As well, Wood said the money will allow the Greater Victoria Public Library to reduce wait times for its popular digital collection and purchase additional titles in greater quantities.

“We’ll also look at adding new collections, or services depending on what our collections librarians recommend,” she said. “Of course, as you can imagine, they have a wish list.”

The Vancouver Island Regional Library, which serves the rest of the Island as well Haida Gwaii and Bella Coola, is still weighing its needs, said Carson.

“We’re seeing a significant spike in our demand for online resources as people are socially isolating, which presents challenges for people,” he said. “But we also see that as potentially an opportunity to continue to expand those online resources and help build digital literacy skills. So this grant could go a long way to helping with those types of initiatives.”

The B.C. government says there are 71 public libraries with 249 branches throughout the province. More than two million people have library cards.

“It has incredible reach,” Fleming said. “And this [money] allows them to reach out even further during the pandemic. I think libraries are going to be a key support for lots of people who are battling isolation.”

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