Vancouver Island Regional Library is hosting a Scratch coding contest for young women to promote science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics education. The contest runs until March 31. (News Bulletin file)

EDITORIAL: Libraries change with the times to remain relevant

The Vancouver Island Regional Library’s decision to eliminate overdue fines is as much a win for relevance as it is for literacy.

The library system this month made permanent a change it piloted in 2021, removing overdue fines from all its products. The move, said VIRL executive director Ben Hyman, was made to take away the punitive aspect of borrowing items that restricted some people’s ability to read, watch and listen to the items available for borrowing.

The pilot project found that two-thirds of borrowed items are returned within the three-week loan period, and 98 percent of items are returned “at some point.” Libraries in the VIRL system will still invoice someone for replacement cost of an item if it hasn’t been returned within four months—which seems fair.

The idea of halting overdue fines took hold when libraries had to close their doors like other businesses during the novel coronavirus pandemic. They quickly found ways to continue offering service to their customers, with contactless pickups and dropoffs. Communication with their clients via social media improved.

The COVID-19 pause gave library staff a chance to examine their delivery systems and see how they could better serve their clientele. While Vancouver Island libraries aren’t quite as progressive as, say, the Anaheim, California Public Library, which offers library books via vending machine in the train station at Anaheim Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), they are still relevant.

Materials available at Vancouver Island libraries are still indicative of what people are looking for, and they are changing with the times. There are 750,000 physical items in the VIRL collection, and the digital reach is even further.

As an example, the VIRL provides e-books through an app: easily accessible with a library card, free and renewable.

Libraries are challenging readers in new ways to stay connected. Summer reading programs for children expanded to similar programs for adults, and are now continuing in the winter, as people embrace the Norwegian practice of hygge—slowing down and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

While libraries are ideal for people’s private amusement or learning, they also offer a lifeline to a city’s marginalized population. Computers are available to use for free, whether it’s to keep in touch with people via email or to use for schoolwork or employment.

A library is one of the only places in town where you don’t have to spend money to be there.

The VIRL recently completed public engagement for its next phase of strategic planning, and we are eager to see what direction the institution goes in the future.

Libraries remain an integral part of Vancouver Island communities. If you haven’t visited one lately, we encourage you to drop by and see all your neighbourhood library has to offer.

Alberni Valley News

Alberni ValleyPort Alberni

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