Vancouver Island Regional Library

2017 Annual Report

Welcome, from the Chair

In 2017, I returned to the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) Board of Trustees as the Chair, after having served on the Board from 2003 – 2011. In my first year as Chair, I had the pleasure of taking the reins during an exciting and innovative time in the organization’s history.

One of the key components of the Board’s role is to actively support and advocate for the vital role that libraries play in communities up and down Vancouver Island, on Haida Gwaii, in Bella Coola, and, increasingly, online. We are lifelines to information, vital resources for families and newcomers, spaces that nurture new enterprises and relationships, and beacons that open doors for our marginalized community members.

This annual report contains story after story of the wonderful ways in which our libraries inspired, enlivened, and enriched people’s lives in 2017. For an advocate like me, the stories motivate me to advocate harder, to forge new connections and partnerships, and to push all levels of government to recognize the exceptional return on investment libraries offer.

I am proud to sit on the Board of Trustees for this world-class, cutting-edge, forward-thinking library system.

Message from the Executive Director

Now more than ever, libraries are places to get connected. Libraries connect individuals to ideas and information, and newcomers to communities and support. They connect seniors with technology and help them facilitate new friendships. Our libraries bring together teens, families, Indigenous community members, tech enthusiasts, literature lovers, people with special needs, business professionals, language learners, and so many more. And we all connect under a common umbrella of learning, literacy, and discovery at the library.

Read the stories in this annual report and you will see exactly what I mean. Whether it was the entire month of October dedicated to our senior — I mean wiser — population, the hip hop recording program in Nanaimo, the explosion of tech in Haida Gwaii, or the wild, furry take on a traditional storytime, you’ll better understand just some of the ways we connected people to information, ideas, and each other in 2017.

As always, I would like to thank our Board of Trustees for their vision and ongoing support of library services, programming, and development. Our passionate staff are the cornerstone of our libraries — thank you for your creativity, dedication, and commitment to offering programming and services that draw people in and creating the welcoming spaces that invite them there.

Libraries, at their core, connect us all.

West Coast Storytelling

Introducing Tundra, the Storytime Wolf

Tundra the Wolf at the Library

Meet Tundra, the storytime wolf.

In August, 2017, children and adults were delighted and amazed to see a surprise guest, Tundra, a canis lupus (wolf), appear at their local Sidney library storytime.

Audiences went on a journey with Gary Allan, program advocate and educator of Who Speaks for Wolf, about the value of wolves in our ecosystem and their behaviour.

While interacting with the children and adults, Tundra assisted tremendously in changing prevailing attitudes about wolves. Children learned about pup development, pack dynamics, wolf predation, and conservation issues in British Columbia.

The program is available to schools and libraries through Who Speaks for Wolf Advocacy and Education. Tundra and Gary participate in presentations up and down Vancouver Island, promoting advocacy, conservation, and education to both young and old.

Photos by Sheri Rypstra

Tundra the Wolf at the Library

Espresso Book Machine and an Anthology of Opportunities!

By Jonathon Bigelow, Nanaimo Harbourfront

On a cold, rainy Saturday in the beginning of December 2017, nearly 70 people gathered in the atrium of the Harbourfront branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library.

Everyone was there for one reason: to celebrate the release of a poetry anthology commemorating Canada’s 150. The anthology, called 150 x 39, aimed to collect a poem for all of the 39 branches in VIRL's service area with poets invited to submit works that reflected the uniqueness of their communities. In total, over 100 poems were submitted for consideration, which made it very challenging to whittle the number down to 39.

The Nanaimo Harbourfront's Espresso Book Machine (EBM), a state-of-the-art book printing and binding machine in the library’s Creativity Commons, was used to print the collection.

In addition to the poetry anthology, staff have worked with local authors and customers throughout our service area on formatting, creating covers, and printing their books using the EBM. The EBM has printed books by local street performers/poets, people wanting to put their memoirs into print as gifts for friends and family, published authors, home schoolers, and class projects from School District 68, as well as fan fiction, comic books, and versions of books currently out of copyright.

If the response to 150 x 39 is any indication, we have no shortage of established and aspiring authors eager to print their own works or contribute to future publishing projects. Among the participants in the call for poems for 150 x 39 were an entire grade 12 English class from Duncan, two young siblings from Masset (both of whom were successful in getting their poems in the anthology), and former Nanaimo Poet Laureate and established Gabriolan author, Naomi Wakan, just to name a few.

More information is available at or by emailing


By Jason Kuffler, Nanaimo Harbourfront

The beat dropped on an innovative and exciting hip hop program in Nanaimo in 2017. Write2Rhyme kicked off in September and was created to target reluctant library users and at-risk teens and adults, particularly the homeless. The program brought local hip hop artist Sirreal (Matt Dunae) into the library to teach participants about the basics of rap, including the history of the craft, how to write rhymes, record and perform songs, and promote their hip hop tracks.

The set of six workshop sessions started with the history of hip hop and then moved on to teach how to write rhymes. The Write2Rhyme participants' tracks were then recorded in the library's Creativity Commons and sent to a producer for professional mixing.

The participants ranged from a homeless man who visits the library every day but had never participated in a library program, to a woman in her 60s, to a young man who had never set foot in the library, to another young man who is living with a brain injury and other physical ailments after being hit by a car a year earlier.

The results of this program were amazing to both see and hear. Sirreal – who also works full time with the Crisis Centre in Nanaimo touring schools and rapping about suicide and substance abuse prevention – emphasizes hip hop as a positive outlet for expression. It was obvious that the Write2Rhyme participants took this message to heart.

Digital Deep Dive

VIRL’s eLibrary grew significantly in 2017 both in the resources offered and the uptake by our customers. Between 2016 and 2017, visitors to VIRL’s eLibrary grew by 21% and our eResource usage increased by 28%.

Overall, traffic to the entire eLibrary grew by 48% between 2016 and 2017, from 3.7 million visitors to more than 5.5 million last year.

In 2017, VIRL brought on board the following exciting eResources:

  • Comics Plus: A database with thousands of comics to choose from.
  • OnePlay: Access to a wide array of Android and PC games.
  • Kanopy: Instant access to more than 26,000 streaming movies and documentaries from around the world.
  • PebbleGO (Dinosaurs): VIRL purchased the Dinosaurs module of this popular database for children in preschool to grade 3 to augment the Science and Animals modules consortially purchased through the BC Libraries Cooperative.
  • NNELS (National Network for Equitable Library Service): A repository of content owned and sustained by Canadian public libraries that make copies of books in accessible formats available to readers in Canada who have print disabilities. Last year, VIRL integrated the NNELS database with our ILS to ease customer access to the materials and began to develop additional programming to support customers with print disabilities.

VIRL’s exciting adoption and usage of eResources is poised to continue its expansion in years ahead.

Stories from Gabriola

Senior's Outreach, Death Café
and One Book.

by Amy Dawley, Gabriola Island

Stepping Up, Stepping Out: Seniors Outreach Partnership

Our Gabriola Island library serves a diverse population, including artists, families, First Nations, and like many communities in our service area, seniors. In an effort to ensure the island’s most vulnerable and isolated seniors had access to library services, the branch partnered with People for a Healthy Community (PHC) on a campaign to bring library services to those in need.

Through this partnership, a “deposit collection” was created at the seniors’ centre, where the PHC was already holding a seniors’ program. Materials are switched up monthly and seniors can borrow/return materials from this collection when they attend the program. Many of these seniors do not have access to their local library because of social isolation or lack of transportation, realities of life for many seniors.

Thanks to this partnership, the Gabriola Island library is ensuring that some of its community’s most vulnerable members have access to a rich array of library resources that may otherwise have been inaccessible to them.

Death Café

Launched January 2017, the Death Café came about because of keen and committed interest from members of the community.

Death Café is an international movement that began in Europe. At a Death Café people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea, and discuss death in a relaxed, open setting. A Death Café is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives, or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session.

The trickle-down effect of the Café on Gabriola Island has been fascinating — it has started conversations and brought people together to talk about home funerals, eco burials, and hospice care on Gabriola.

They say the only two guarantees in life are death and taxes. The former, at least, can lead to some interesting and thought-provoking discussions.

One Book, One Community: Reading & Reconciliation

One Book, One Community united the community and was inspired by the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A partnership between Gabriola Arts Council, Gabriola Friends of the Library, VIRL Gabriola branch, Gabriola Museum, Gabriola Island Local Trust Committee of Islands Trust, Pages Bookstore and Marina, and the Snuneymuxw First Nation, this emotionally-charged initiative invited everyone on the Island to read and discuss Richard Wagamese’s critically-acclaimed novel, Medicine Walk.

After reading the novel, the community came together for a conversation, hosted by Monique Gray Smith (Lakota, Cree, Scottish) and Celestine Affleck (Snuneymuxw) and facilitated by TRC Honorary Witness Shelagh Rogers, to discuss ideas and issues that arose from the book.

This magical project and event started a conversation that continues to this day about some of the most important issues facing our country.

Stories, Songs, Bubbles, Scarves and….Drag Queens!

By Joëlle Samson, Campbell River

Ever since the first Drag Queen Storytime in San Francisco in December 2015, they’ve been popping up in libraries everywhere. In June 2017, our Campbell River branch got into the act with its first Drag Queen Story Hour during the city’s Pride Day Celebrations with Drag Queen Valynne Vile and Drag Thing Rose Butch.

The day was electric with more than 60 children, teens, and parents waiting in anticipation for the Queens’ arrival. The hour began with a grand entrance by the Queens and the song The More We Get Together. Story Hour quickly took off from there with readings from The Paper Bag Princess and Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool, as well as renditions of other well-known children’s songs that incorporated the use of bubbles and scarves. It wasn’t long before everyone was singing and dancing along. The first half of the program ended with a thrilling rendition of Skinamarinky Dinky Dink, with everyone standing up, doing the actions, and blowing kisses at the end.

During the second half of the program, people of all ages, Queens included, made their own paper crowns using glitter, rhinestones, stickers, and more. It provided a great opportunity for attendees to take selfies with the Queens, ask questions, and mingle. Teens flocked to the Drag Queens to ask questions, and children eagerly posed with the Queens as their parents/caregivers took photographs.

We were surprised by the large number of teenagers who came to the event, many of whom were members of their schools’ Gay Straight Alliance Clubs. The teenagers were too young to attend the Queens and Things show later that evening at the Tidemark Theatre, and they revelled in the chance to meet and mingle with two of the show’s stars. The library offered an opportunity for inclusion at all age levels during Campbell River’s Pride Day by organizing a family-friendly event for all to enjoy in a safe and welcoming space.

Wellington Reopens with a Bang!

The only thing hotter than the outside temperature on that Saturday afternoon in July was the party going on inside the Country Club Centre in Nanaimo. Close to 400 people descended on the shopping mall on July 8 to celebrate something special: the grand opening of the brand-new beloved Wellington Library in its gorgeous new digs.

After the speeches, ribbon cutting, and obligatory (delicious!) cake, the always enigmatic children’s entertainer, Captain Thunderpants brought kids and caregivers to their feet for a raucous concert that culminated with everyone marching in-line through the spotless new branch and out into the mall.

Attendees also had an opportunity to demo Virtual Reality goggles and were invited to share their stories of what Canada means to them, as part of VIRL’s Canada 150 celebrations.

Of course, there was a new library to admire, and admire they did! The state-of-the-art new library boasts the following exciting features:

  • A community-tailored collection, including new books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, and CDs
  • New public computers
  • Computer stations with literacy software specifically for children
  • More public space with comfortable lounge seating and fireplace for reading and quiet study
  • Collaborative spaces and areas for children’s programs

The branch’s unique location inside the shopping mall has increased its exposure to customers who may not have otherwise set foot in a library. Of course, Wellington’s previous customers are flocking back to their new library in droves too.

By all accounts, situating the library inside the mall has succeeded in giving Wellington customers a vibrant community space for many years to come.

Give the Gift of…Library!

In 2017, VIRL invited people to give the gift of library during the Holiday season. Throughout the month of December, VIRL launched a #GiveLibrary campaign with beautifully packaged holiday-themed library cards for kids and adults. #GiveLibrary had a goal to get more library cards out to new customers and to promote the amazing diversity of resources and gifts a library card opens up.

Library cards were housed in adorable gift card packaging, themed for the holidays, and marketed as ideal stocking stuffer gifts for under $5 (donation optional).

The branding and design catered to parents and caregivers, and our goal was to entice these existing customers to take the cards as gifts for those who do not already have a card. After all, where else could someone pick up thousands of DVDs and books, gigs and gigs of free streaming music and movies, and access to learning software and databases for their loved ones?

The cards were distributed to VIRL’s 39 branches along with branded POP display racks and posters to promote the campaign in the branch. Although it was only a pilot project in 2017, this highly successful campaign delivered over 750 cards to prospective new customers while promoting the wealth of resources and services available at our libraries.

Celebrating Seniors

Library Month (October) was all about "wiser adults" in 2017.

Throughout the entire month, VIRL staff engaged with thousands of seniors up and down our library system in seniors centres, shopping malls, grocery stores, community centres, at the library, and other places seniors like to mix and mingle.

Over the month, VIRL staff stopped at 30 locations to talk to seniors and to promote the library. We signed up more than 2,200 seniors with new library cards through outreach, marketing, and special events in our branches, and engaged with hundreds more through in-branch programming celebrations.

VIRL also launched Seniors’ Week — which we branded Wiser Adults Week — from October 24 – 31. The week was loaded with seniors-themed parties and offered tech help and digital training for seniors in many communities.

Wiser Adults Week provided the opportunity for staff to exercise their digital training and literacy skills with seniors and to connect seniors to the world of digital and learning resources at their library (from eBooks and audiobooks to movies and online learning).

Many branches also held a day of celebration specifically for seniors, attracting hundreds of participants who came to mingle, enjoy refreshments, and connect with their library.

The month was a wonderful celebration of the wiser adults who make our service area so special.

Tinkering with Tech in Haida Gwaii

In 2017, technology landed on the doorstep of our Haida Gwaii libraries.

The library’s new Spheros, small robotic spheres that can be driven or programmed, were a perfect fit for the School District’s push to include coding in the classroom. Students quickly began experimenting with coding by developing games and by programming Sphero movements.

In Sandspit, grades K-3 were introduced to the Spheros’ drawing programming. In addition to teaching the students about directing machines with code, the program was also a great cursive writing tool. The students learned that the Sphero cannot “hop” between letters and can write a name more clearly if the letters are joined together. Coding and penmanship, together at last.

At the Sandspit library, Storytime evolved into Robotics Time, which the children dubbed Rolytime. With each visit from a librarian it was clear that the children’s technological literacy was growing.

The Code-a-pillar, a programmable caterpillar, was quickly mastered by Kindergarteners. Parents reported gaining a new concept of how code does what it does by logical sequences. Intergenerational learning in action!

In Queen Charlotte, library staff set up a Roly Rink to see how the children would use it. Not surprisingly, the kids loved exploring the wrecking ball potential of the Sphero when combined with Keva Planks.

With all this tech touching down on Haida Gwaii, the learning outcomes have begun to soar.

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Vancouver Island Regional Library