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Bright and colourful, Emily Carr branch opens Monday at Uptown

The modern library was built with users in mind, says Greater Victoria Public Library
New Emily Carr Library 4
Julie Staven

The Emily Carr library is unrecognizable. Granted the branch is in a entirely new building, but the library is a bright and modern upgrade to an out-of-date facility.

Nearly 360-degree panoramic views of Greater Victoria welcome users to the new, fully accessible branch. Windows encircle most of the floor, located on the upper level of Uptown, above the Scotiabank.

In addition to reproductions of Emily Carr's work hanging on the walls, massive coloured ceiling-hung rectangles act as both library wayfinders and artwork.

"One of the board members came in and said, 'Emily Carr would've loved this; because when you walk in and look out, you're right up here in the trees," says Olivia Anderson, Greater Victoria Public Library’s Saanich and Peninsula district co-ordinator.

The modern library was built with users in mind, Anderson says, noting all services are on one level, and it's fully accessible for all library patrons.

Transforming the library to 21st-century needs was next to impossible in the old space. So last year the GVPL board voted to move the branch across the street, with Saanich footing the bill to rent out space from Uptown.

The most glaring issue about the old library was accessibility.

Anderson points to the washrooms at the former branch to illustrate the problem.

"In order for someone in a wheelchair or a family with strollers to use the (old) washrooms, they had to exit the building and go all the way around through the parking lot," she says. "The washrooms were really cramped. We had real problems, because there was no staff on that main floor, with people using drugs and messing them up. They weren't as safe as I would've liked them to have been."

While the square footage of the new branch is smaller than that of the old Emily Carr, the space is flexible: shelves are on wheels and can be moved,  and the long reference and service desks are replaced by one small desk.

"When the old Emily Carr branch was built, you required an awful lot of processing space. Everything was checked in and out by hand using old stamps – there was no automation. You needed lots of space because you weren't using computers," Anderson says. "That space is something modern libraries no longer need. … The role of libraries have changed."

Apart from accessibility, key to creating the new library was responding to the needs of users, says GVPL CEO Maureen Sawa.

"Convenience and speed, now more than ever, are becoming very, very important for all of us, and I think there's an assumption that if you have a device you should have access to everything, including your public library," she says.

A GVPL cellphone app that responds with new tablet-based self-checkouts allows users to use their phone their library card, and avoid printing a receipt by receiving a digital copy in their email.

Sawa says this new branch will be used a model to show other municipalities how their aging libraries can be replaced by beautiful, modern spaces.

"Some people having in their minds that with digitization people aren't reading as much – that's not the case," she says. "By having this kind of space and new technologies, I think it will not only attract new users, but really assure our existing users that public libraries are more relevant than ever before."

The library opens to the public on Monday (Jan. 6) at 10 a.m.

Features of the new Emily Carr branch:

• Automated material handling system allows for check-in of books, CDs, video games and DVDs, and uses conveyor belts to separate materials

• 10 internet stations, plus free Wi-Fi

• Outlets located in seating areas around the library to plug-in laptops, tablets and cellphones

• Outdoor reading garden, where flora inspired by Emily Carr's book "Wild Flowers" will be planted


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