The physical Sidney-North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library may be closed because of COVID-19, but the pandemic has increased demand for digital services. (Black Press Media file).

The physical Sidney-North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library may be closed because of COVID-19, but the pandemic has increased demand for digital services. (Black Press Media file).

Pandemic drives record demand for digital library offerings across Peninsula

Additional services to come online in the future

COVID-19 has sparked demand for digital library services that Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) offers.

Speaking during Sidney’s council meeting, Coun. Barbara Fallot said check out of digital and audio books hit an all-time high on April 1 with 2,285 check-outs.

“It’s anticipated that increased use of digital borrowing will continue as more users are adapting their habits,” she said.

Users are streaming more than 100 additional movies and TV series daily, while checking out an additional 134 e-books and 50 digital magazine daily, she added later.

All VIRL branches including the branch serving Sidney and North Saanich temporarily closed on March 16 because of COVID-19, leading to 92 per cent of staff being laid-off, with the expectation that numerous positions would be recalled as VIRL develops alternative services, the public heard.

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The pandemic-related closure saw the system make additional investments into digital content providers such as OverDrive (e-books), Kanopy (classic movies, independent movies and documentaries), RBDigital (books and magazines) and Acorn TV (British-themed television), Fallot said, adding that existing vendors made additional material available at no cost.

COVID-19 has also led to other changes in the library’s infrastructure. Instead of physically being present in a branch, would-be users can now sign up for a library card online.

“Within the first three weeks, 842 new cards were registered,” she said.

VIRL has also started virtual story hours for children, as well as seniors, with senior homes in Sidney participating, said Fallot, adding that the library is currently looking into producing senior-related content.

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VIRL also shared its resources with two Vancouver Island school districts and five First Nations communities, Fallot said, noting that local First Nations had not yet responded to the offer.

Fallot, who represents Sidney on VIRL’s board of trustees, offered the update after participating in a virtual board meeting Saturday, April 25 after COVID-19 cancelled the board’s scheduled March meeting.

Ultimately, Fallot predicts that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on VIRL.

“As with every other organization around the world, whether it’s private business, government organizations, or even family and friends, COVID-19 has both pushed the pause button, as well as the fast-forward button,” she said. “How we do things now shape how we do things going forward.”

The first order of business was to allow for board members to participate in the virtual meeting before going on with the agenda.

“With 35-plus participants, many of whom were new to virtual meetings, there were a few ‘oops’ and issues, and we ended up with a four-hour meeting,” she said.


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