Legit Librarian Hacks

August 3, 2021

Back to school with SOLARO

The start of the school year can be an anxious time for students and their caregivers and never more so than after learning disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Students may need to review what they learned last year before jumping into another year of learning, home-learning parents are working on their lesson plans, students entering Grade 12 have provincial exam prep on their minds and adult learners are looking for study tools to help them complete high school.

Vancouver Island Regional Library offers SOLARO, an exam prep and study app for students in Grades 3-12.  Based on the BC Curriculum, SOLARO provides study notes and practice tests for English/language arts, science and math.  Users can also customize their study with their own notes and flashcards.  Parents of younger students can use SOLARO materials as a framework or to build up their own skills to help with homework, while older students can work through material independently.  SOLARO is great for teachers and tutors too!

To get started:

  1. Sign in with your library card to get an anonymized log-in here: https://libraries.solaro.com/VIRL
  2. Download the SOLARO app for iOS or Android and log in to start learning!

Grant Connect 

As well as offering bestselling books and engaging movies to check out in your free time, our eResource collection provides a plethora of resources for our cardholders to use in their working life, including Imagine Canada’s Grant Connect Database.

Anyone who works for a non-profit knows how difficult it can be to find grants to fund your projects.  Grant Connect provides a grant funding information database that makes the search process significantly easier.  Grant Connect offers:

  • Information on over 11,000 Canadian foundations, 560 corporate giving programs, 370 government grant programs, 120 American foundations, and 200 other kinds of grant opportunities.
  • Funder profiles that offer insights on specific grant programs, application preferences, financial summaries, and key decision-makers.
  • Data on billions of dollars in past donations.

Grant Connect is available in library branches, on public computer workstations or while connected to VIRL WiFi.  Until August 31, 2021, we are also able to provide home access to our customers.  Please email databases@virl.bc.ca for information on accessing Grant Connect from outside of library branches.


Answering your questions about Libby and OverDrive

Many of our customers have tried our already popular eBook and eAudiobook collections for the first time in the past year.  Here are some questions that new and long-time users often ask us:

What is the difference between Libby and OverDrive?

OverDrive is the service that provides our electronic book collections.  Libby is the App for checking out and reading or listening to books.  It is available for Apple, Android and even in web browsers at libbyapp.com.  OverDrive materials can also be checked out through our website and on some eReaders.

How do I ask the library to purchase an OverDrive book?

  1. Search for the book at overdrive.com
  2. Items marked “Not in Collection” can be recommended by clicking the “Recommend” button and entering your information
  3. If we purchase the book, the system will send you an email

How do I find a book that my entire book club can read at the same time with no holds?

Try our Read It Together List featuring simultaneous-use titles that book clubs might enjoy.

How do I get help with eBooks?

Ask the staff at your local branch or ask OverDrive directly by filling out the Support Form.

Celebrate diverse films this June

Kanopy offers 30,000 movie and TV titles in all genres.  It focuses on critically acclaimed, foreign, educational and documentary films. VIRL cardholders have access to 10 views per month, plus unlimited Great Courses and Kanopy Kids content.  Here are some films you may want to check out this June:

National Indigenous History Month

Where to look?

You Might Enjoy: The Road Forward (2017) (nfb.ca) A musical documentary interspersing interviews with Indigenous activists with songs sequences depicting the struggles and triumphs of Indigenous people.

Pride Month

Where to look:

  • Try search keywords “LGBT” or “LGBTQ” or search film titles on Kanopy
  • Browse LGBTQ Stories

You Might Enjoy: Born to Be (2020)  A documentary about Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery and the life-changing effects of gender-affirming surgery.

Filipino Heritage Month

Where to look:

  • Browse Subject: Filipino Cinema
  • Search “Philippines” for films about the Philippines.
  • Use language filters for materials in Filipino and Tagalog

You Might Enjoy: Jeepney (2014) A documentary about Jeepneys, intricately decorated WWII Jeeps that many Filipinos rely on for transportation.


Canadian Newsstream

Are you a Canadian news connoisseur? Check out Canadian Newsstream, which includes 463 daily and weekly newspapers from communities across Canada as well as national newspapers. Great for keeping up on the news from your home town! Some publications are yesterday’s news — delayed by one day.

You can do keyword searches of all publications in Canadian Newsstream, making it a fantastic resource for conducting research.

Get started with Canadian Newsstream now!

Get started


PressReader includes international newspapers and magazines in 65 different languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu.  This makes it an incomparable source of reading material for readers who are multi-lingual (or who are trying to be).  It also features a variety of English language publications from around the world.

There are too many popular titles to list, but they include Canadian Living, BBC Good Food, The Walrus, Readers Digest, Highlights for Kids, and The Hockey News.

PressReader allows users to “subscribe” to a publication.  New issues are then automatically downloaded to your device when they are available.  This is a great way to make sure that you never miss an issue and can be especially useful if you’re using PressReader to read your daily newspaper.

Newspapers available in PressReader include The Times Colonist, Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, Le Journal de Montréal, The Guardian, and many more.

PressReader also has a news feed which aggregates the day’s top stories from Canadian and international newspapers.  If you’re looking for information on a specific topic, you can search by keyword in all of the available publications.

Sign in with your library card and become a PressReader now!


Let’s Get Digital…Magazines!

by Nikky McCarvill

Imagine having your choice of thousands of magazines and newspapers all at the same time? If you have a VIRL library card and a mobile device, imagine no more! Our digital magazines and newspapers are electronic versions of the “real” thing; they provide images of print magazine or newspaper pages in an easy-to-use interface.  Both current issues and back issues are available to be checked out with your library card via your computer’s internet browser or apps for Android tablets and iPad.  They can also be downloaded to read later when you aren’t online.  Digital magazines also have the benefit of being easier to see than traditional magazines; you can zoom in to make text larger or increase brightness when reading in dim lighting.

We’re going to keep populating this page with tips and tricks to help you take advantage of all we have to offer. Are you ready? Let’s get digital!

How to Check Out Digital Periodicals

Ready to start reading?  You can download the Libby (OverDrive) at the App Store or Google Play. You will need your library card and pin number to sign in.

Don’t have a card?  You can sign up for an electronic card that provides access to these and other eResources here: https://virl.bc.ca/get-help/get-a-card/

Don’t use a mobile device?  You can also access all of our digital periodicals through our website at https://virl.bc.ca/.

Need help getting started?  Your local branch staff are happy to assist.


3D Printing at Your Library

by Corinne Shortridge

Of all the fun and innovative technology we house in VIRL’s Creativity Commons, our 3-D printer may be the most popular. 3-D printers work by interpreting digitally modeled drawings, and rendering them into three dimensional objects. The 3-D models are designed in a computer-aided design (CAD) software program such as TinkerCAD or Blender. TinkerCAD, our go-to software, is a free, online, web-based program that is easy to learn, even if you don’t have a background in computer-aided design.

After we give the 3-D printer instructions (via the 3-D modelling file, in .stl format), it dispenses layer upon layer of fine strips of polymer material, until the object has been constructed from the printing bed up. In the Creativity Commons, we use plant-based polymers that are biodegradable.

3-D printing in the Creativity Commons has been used for a variety of purposes. We have had customers print everything from business idea prototypes, board game pieces, VW curtain hangers, and toys and trinkets. One of the most interesting projects we had was a local archaeologist who 3-D printed a rendering of a fossil so it could be shared as an educational tool.

Since the Creativity Commons opened 3-D printing services in September 2020, our 3-D printer has been running almost non-stop. We have seen an explosion in demand for our 3-D printed nose clips, which eliminate the dreaded foggy glasses that result from wearing a cloth mask. The 3-D printed nose clips cost about $0.25 cents each and can be ordered by emailing cc@virl.bc.ca. They can be picked up at any branch in the VIRL system.

If you’re interested in getting a 3-D print, you are in luck! Email your .stl file to cc@virl.bc.ca and we can determine whether it’s possible for us to print. We are limited by the size of the print (think: smaller than a baseball) and by the time it takes to execute the print, with a max print time of 6 hours per file. However, we can let you know quickly whether it’s possible or not.

If you’re not ready to learn TinkerCAD, check out Thingiverse, a free database of peer-shared 3-D print designs. You may be surprised by what you’ll find!


5-Finger Reading Rule

by Nathalie Jones

If you have a child in your household that can’t wait to get their hands on books, especially with all the extra time at home right now, check out the 5 Finger Reading Rule! It’s a suggested guide for early readers to build up their reading comprehension (i.e. how well they understand the words that they are reading).

Here’s how it works:

Open up a page of a book you want to read. Using the fingers on one of your hands, count out how many words you don’t recognize.

  • 0-1 words: the book might be too easy.
  • 1-2 words: this looks like a perfect fit!
  • 3-4 words: give this book a try, but swap to something else if you aren’t feeling comfortable.
  • 5+ words: this book is likely too challenging. This might be a great book to read with someone else or try later after building confidence with other stories.

While the 5 Finger Reading Rule is a fun tool, remember that the goal is to promote a love for lifelong learning, and interest and ability levels do not necessarily matchup. Interest level means what the reader wants to read, whereas ability level means how much of the story the reader understands. For example, does your early reader love to learn about all things historical? Their interest level may take them to explore old and new worlds like in History! : The Past as You’ve Never Seen It Before from the Smithsonian Institution, while their ability level may take them to learn about the life of Josephine Baker by Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara; illustrated by Agathe Sorlet.

Question: What should I do if my child is reading on their own but is struggling with the books they have chosen?

  • Encourage them to ask you or someone they trust what unfamiliar words mean. Sometimes it can feel daunting to acknowledge when we don’t know something, so trust is very important for your child.
  • Help them look up the definition of words they don’t know. We have dictionaries available at the library or you can find many helpful resources online. Not only will this help with their reading comprehension, it will help with their vocabulary skills as well! Did you know that according to Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and author, Saroj Ghoting, “[c]hildren’s books have about 31 rare words per thousand words. That’s 3 times more than in conversation and 25% more rare words than what is on television programs.”
  • Encourage them to use the 5 Finger Reading Rule to find a book that they feel both challenged and confident with.
  • Use our library catalogue to discover books within your child’s reading level. See below for a guide!
  • Check out a list of our juvenile starter books here.
  • Still need more help finding something within your child’s interest and ability level? Ask us!


Searching by reading level through the library catalogue:

  1. Search for a book your reader already loves in our library catalogue.
  2. Click on the title of the book, which will lead you to the book’s record.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the page until you find the Reading Level
  4. Select the Browse by Reading Level
  5. Use the Lexile Measure, Accelerated Reader, and Age/Grade Level tabs to search by your reader’s ability level on the sliding scale.

Effective and Safe Online Searching

by Patrick Siebold

Most of us don’t think twice about pulling out our devices to ‘Google’ a recipe or find a book review. Indeed, we have come to rely on our devices and the internet to be able to find information instantly. In this age of disinformation and misinformation, it is remarkable that more emphasis has not been placed on doing this effectively and safely.

Most of us, myself included, don’t pay much attention to how and where we search for something online. We often just use the easiest default search engine on whatever device or computer we are using, but it is important to remember that not all search engines are created equally. Most search engines store a history of your online activity and will give you personalized or filtered search results based on what the search engine thinks you want. This means that two people sitting right next to each other might get completely different search results for the exact same search. While this might actually help shorten your search time if you are looking for a pair of jeans on Amazon, what if you are searching for news or current events? Or doing research for a course? Or looking for legal or medical information?

To get around this it is good practice to try multiple search engines and compare the results. Or better yet, there are some search engines out there, like DuckDuckGo, that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. Most importantly, they show all users the same search results for a given search term.

Also, while search engines are a great source of instant information, think movie reviews, if you are doing any kind of research, and by this, I loosely mean anything from looking for new dishwasher ratings to researching the Long term effects of soluble endoglin and mild hypercholesterolemia in mice hearts and everything in between, it is far better to search somewhere with results you can trust, like in a library’s subscription database! As one of my instructors once drilled into me, Google is a great place to start a search, but not a great place to end a search (more on this next time!).

Note: If you happen to be shopping around for a new dishwasher or have an interest in mice hearts I have provided links to articles in two of our very excellent subscription databases: Consumer Reports and Academic Search Elite (Library Number Required).


Effective and Safe Online Searching- Part Two 

by Patrick Siebold

I think most of us acknowledge that the internet can sometimes feel like a wilderness. There is no question that there is a ton of great information out there; YouTube instructional videos alone have empowered millions of us to try and fix our own broken appliances, usually voiding their warranties in the process. But there are dangers lurking out there in the corners of the internet. In the early days of the internet, the dangers seemed a lot less dire. Sure you might get spammed and the endless pop-ups were irritating but a quick reboot or disk defrag usually did the trick. These days the consequences seem direr, probably because we have become so dependent on it. The internet isn’t just a place for novelty entertainment, it is how we connect with our friends and family, where we do our banking, work, shop, collect government assistance and much more. Indeed, the UN has even declared that our online freedom is a basic Human Right.

But, as it has grown to be an essential component of our everyday lives, the risks have also proportionally increased. Like something out of a dystopian cold war alternate history novel, hackers have evolved from misunderstood teenagers breaking into things for the fun of it to sophisticated teams of state-sponsored ‘foreign actors’ (usually Russians) meddling in things like elections and stock exchanges. The most troubling part of this is that they are doing these things by manipulating us. The spread of disinformation via thousands of false social media accounts with nefarious links which are then shared again and again and again is well documented. And evidence has shown that this happens all throughout the political spectrum so no one is immune.

So how do we know what is real and true?  Surely there has to be an easy way to determine the veracity, or authenticity, of a website or online source? Well, unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to do this.

The best tool is you. Thinking critically. Look at everything with a critical eye. Be a detective. One technique for doing this is called, somewhat cheekily, the CRAAP test.

CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. The CRAAP Test was developed by Sarah Blakeslee and her team of librarians at California State University and is used to instruct students how to do research, but I would argue that this is useful for everyone who uses the internet:

  1. Currency: Is the information up-to-date?
  2. Relevance: Is the information relevant and of a level appropriate for your research?
  3. Authority: Where is the information published and who is the author?
  4. Accuracy: Where does the information come from? Is it supported by evidence?
  5. Purpose: Why was this information published? What was the motive?

Also, there are some specific things to look for when opening a website, particularly the URL (universal resource locator). This is what appears right after the www. and it tells you the name of the organization or host of the site (e.g. virl.bc.ca). The domain (usually one of the last parts of the main URL) tells you the nature of the organization (.com, .gov, .edu, .org etc.). It is important to be aware of who is providing the information, for example, information on research into smoking and lung cancer might be more reliable if it comes from an .edu site than if it is a .com site related to the tobacco industry or a .org site from an anti-tobacco group. Finally, the last letters represent the country.

A strangely long and complicated URL is sometimes a clue that a website may not be what it seems.

One good rule to go by is that if you suspect something is fishy, it probably is.

If you want to take it a step further and really give yourself some tangible tools to navigate a world awash in fake news and misinformation, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West at the University of Washington have developed a free online course to this effect, entitled Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World. This site has a variety of fun, interactive and informative resources that are also great for impressing your family and friends with.

Good Luck! And for Pete Sakes, don’t open that email if you don’t recognize the source!