Library focusing on outreach as part of new strategic plan

The Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) recently released its new strategic plan.

The Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) recently released its new strategic plan, and it serves to acknowledge and respond to the evolving role of libraries in our rapidly changing, digital society.

Part of the plan calls for the GVPL to extend the library’s reach beyond the bricks and mortar of traditional facilities in a bid to increase the accessibility and impact of library services in Greater Victoria.

To that end, the library recently unveiled Olive — the library’s outreach van. It comes with its own Wi-Fi hotspot and has everything needed to transport library services to special events, care homes, shelters, schools, hospitals and anywhere groups of people may gather.

“Using a laptop in the van we can access collections, provide digital books, issue library cards and basically do most anything we can do at the library,” said Daphne Wood, director of communication with the library.

But Olive isn’t the only way the library is engaging the community. Hundreds of volunteers regularly pick up collections of books that are then taken to community locations where the residents might have difficulty accessing regular libraries. Some of the books are donated and are distributed without the expectation that they will be returned.

Some volunteers even pedal books to potential clients through the use of “bikemobiles” — bike trailers that can be loaded up with books, creating an environmentally-friendly bookmobile.

When these programs and others like them are tallied, the GVPL reports that they initiated 1,009 outreach initiatives in 2015, reaching 31,270 clients. They hope to exceed those totals in 2016.

But physically transporting books is only part of the equation.

“I like to think there’s two libraries…the physical and the virtual,” said Wood. “With the use of smartphones, tablets and computers, we can make people aware of all the services that we offer, what books are in our collection and the variety of formats in which those books are available. We have people showing up here who have already selected the book they want. They’ve used our gvpl.ca site and know exactly what we have and what they want.”

In other cases, as in e-books, the materials can actually be downloaded from home.

Library collections have also been expanded to be more inclusive of the community as a whole. Books are available in multiple languages, large print, e-book formats and audio books.

Finally, there’s the social aspect. “The library has increasingly become the village square of the community; a meeting place where people can relax, interact with old friends and new, and explore their interests while learning from one another. In many ways it’s the people’s university,” said Jennifer Rowan, adult services and program coordinator with the library.

The social aspect of libraries have also motivated the addition of spaces for children, including adaptive toys and activities.