Rheta Steer

Rheta Steer

Delivering the library to the people

Greater Victoria Public Library keeps books flowing to clients trapped at home

Louise Baril has never officially kept track, but she estimates she’s already read some 20,000 books in her lifetime.

The 72-year-old doesn’t go through them as fast as she used to, but that can be chalked up to her health – not a lack of interest, by any means.

A stroke in November 2008 left her with little use of her right hand, and significant weakness in her right foot. As a result, Baril is a shut-in in her Quadra Street apartment in Saanich.

“I always went to the library before my stroke. I’d pick up five books, rush through them and return them before the time was up,” Baril says. “And I’ve always done this. When I was a kid my dad was a big influence in my reading. He took me by the hand into the public library in Exeter, (Ont.) and got me hooked on reading.”

Unable to leave her home on her own to venture to the nearby Emily Carr branch as she used to do, Baril says she’s lucky to have found the Greater Victoria Public Library’s visiting library service.

Once a month, a volunteer will deliver a stack of books to Baril’s home. The books are carefully selected by GVPL employees who know the genres, authors and types of books she enjoys.

“Nothing is just thrown in the bag. We give (clients) unique items they’ve never had before each time,” says Andrea Brimmell, the assistive services co-ordinator with the GVPL. “We’re always trying to find them the best materials.”

Some 300 residents in Greater Victoria take advantage of the visiting library service, which is run out of the Emily Carr, Central and Juan de Fuca branches.

Clients – mostly seniors – who are confined to their homes due to such things as illness and frailty, complete a reader profile that allows them to choose material they would like delivered.

“It’s very important for us to outreach to these people who can’t come to the libraries,” Brimmell says. “We do a lot of literacy outreach with young children, but at the other end of the spectrum, we don’t want seniors to fall off our radar. And they need us.”

Rheta Steer has been a volunteer driver for the visiting library service since 1997. The 76-year-old currently has two routes, dropping off books and CDs to some 20 GVPL clients once a month.

She and Baril have struck up a friendship in the three years she’s been delivering to Baril’s home.

“I love meeting people. I love helping people,” says Steer, a retired teacher. “After 35 years of working in the classroom with children, now I’m able to be in a helping role with just a different age group, people in a different situation.

“I know all my clients appreciate this service. Every time I go out they’re saying how wonderful it is, how thankful they are. So I get something out of that. I feel it’s appreciated.”

Brimmell says the visiting library service, which has been around for at least three decades, wouldn’t be possible without the 40 volunteer drivers.

“They’re vital to the service. They not only deliver the material, they chat with the people. And because they’re shut-ins, it’s vital for them to have someone to talk to.”

For more information on the visiting library service, or to learn about volunteer or client opportunities, call 250-475-6101.

kslavin@saanichnews.com