Stronger Than Ever
October 8, 2020
This October Library Month – We’re Celebrating Staff!
October is Library Month, and this year we’re celebrating the staff who keep our libraries thriving.
With Libraries opening up in communities large and small, we know you’re excited to see all of the friendly faces again.
From billboards to buttons, and programs happening for staff all month long, we’re celebrating as loud as we can that we are stronger than ever.
Get to Know Us
Annette Van Koevering: All hands on deck
From the bustling city streets of Los Angeles, to the quiet, carefree pace of Cowichan, Children’s Librarian turned Library Manager, Annette Van Koevering says she never expected to work in a library.
“I volunteered in the library at my high school in Winnipeg, but I never actually wanted to be a Librarian. My plan was to be an Archaeologist,” says Annette. “Ever since I was a small child I wanted to learn about the Pre-Dynastic, Early-Dynastic period of Ancient Egypt. In fact, you can often find me wearing my King Tut death mask necklace.”
But when Annette began her library career as a Children’s Librarian at the Los Angeles (LA) Public Library where her colleagues there showed her the ropes, she was hooked. From LA to Northern California, to the Okanagan Regional Library, to Cariboo Regional and finally VIRL’s Cowichan branch, Annette picked up experience wherever she landed, and a few cats too.
“I adopted a rescue cat from LA who has moved back home to Canada with me twice, and from Kelowna to Vancouver Island. He is now almost 20 years old and is still going strong,” says Annette. “I also rescued three other kittens from Northern California.”
As the manager for both the Cowichan and Lake Cowichan branches, Annette doesn’t just oversee the day-to-day operations, she is very much all hands on deck.
“I won’t ask staff to do anything that I wouldn’t do,” says Annette. “Before the pandemic, I was often on branch walkabouts, investigating issues and dealing with them head on.”
And while issues can pop up frequently in the often hectic Cowichan branch, Annette enjoys the overall appreciation customers have for the branches’ services.
“The staff are amazing and always give so much more than what is asked of them,” says Annette. “I think that we definitely make a difference in people’s lives. We just need to continue to be open, patient, fair, and willing to always learn new things. A great sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.”
During her down time, Annette relaxes at home, spending time reading, watching TV, playing with her cats and adding bling to the homemade boxes and cards she makes. She isn’t sure where her future is going to take her, especially during the pandemic, but she hopes to continue to make a difference.
“I hope that I can continue to help my community and the larger community as a whole as long as I am able,” says Annette.
Sonja Goldsmith: Ready for the call
As a Casual in VIRL’s Hornby Island branch, Sonja Goldsmith may not be a face our customers see each and every day, but her passion for the branch and ability to jump in and take on any task, no matter how big or small, is ever present.
“We have an orchid that was given to us about a year ago and when I filled in for two months of leave, I managed to keep the orchid alive. I do not have a green thumb but it’s still alive and I’m pretty proud of that!” says Sonja.
Orchids aside, because the Hornby branch is one of our smaller, more remote branches, it’s typically run by one staff member. When that person is away, Sonja essentially takes over.
“I help the public find materials, check things out for folks, find and prepare the requested items that will be shipped out to other branches,” says Sonja. “As a casual you have to be detail oriented, quick to learn, have good people skills and good detective skills to be able to track down items for folks.”
At the branch Sonja is quick to jump in to teach patrons new computer skills, and interest them in new Canadian bluegrass bands. As an avid reader who conquers multiple books at a time, she has plenty of recommendations too.
“I absolutely love Brandon Sanderson, his Cosmere universe is incredible! And any of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. His work is brilliant,” says Sonja.
Outside of the branch, you’ll find Sonja out with her camera hunting for amazing snapshots and Chanterelle mushrooms.
Since putting the branch into “hibernation mode” due to the pandemic, Sonja is happy to be back in the branch and back to the smiles and friendly hellos that make her day fly by.
“Working at VIRL as a casual on Hornby is one of the best jobs I have ever had. I love the people I work with and the people in the community who are our regular patrons,” says Sonja. “I look forward to the time when we can once again welcome them back into the branch.”
Ranza Clark: A friendly face on VIRL's frontline
Whether it’s commiserating on the merits of a certain mystery author, or ruminating over why murder hornets didn’t actually make a comeback this year, the conversations frontline staff have with patrons are engaging, entertaining, and are often a vital personal exchange.
By interacting and getting to know the customers on the frontline of her branch on Gabriola Island, Ranza is able to customize the orders she fulfills and suggest some personally intriguing titles. She’s also able to utilize her creative side.As a painter whose work is published on the Gabriola Arts Council website, Ranza has a few recommendations for budding artists on the island.
“I’m keenly interested in books on art methods, art history, artist biographies and gardening,” says Ranza. “As a library assistant, I also have plenty of opportunity to express my creative side through things such as displays, choosing titles for Grab & Go bags, overall team input and program support.”
And when she’s not making personal connections with her patrons, Ranza focuses on expanding personal growth and development at VIRL.
“As frontline staff, we have access to excellent resources, such as the Niche Academy tutorials for eResources, a training program on homelessness, webinars and tutorials on safety training, diversity, Indigenous Cultural Awareness, just to name a few,” she says.
As a circulation staff member, Ranza says it’s important to be ready for the day to fly by too.
“There is always something to do. Although we all run on the same procedures, each individual branch has its own unique community and environment. Expect to be involved in creating customized scenarios for the demographics of your area. Expect amazing teamwork with fellow staff in an open and caring setting,” she says. “You become, by working here, a better person. It’s inevitable. Above all, bring your own interests and unique gifts to the workplace. You’ll be made to feel at home and given a chance to shine.”
Jo-Anne "Etchi" Zaleski: The Lighthouse Keeper
Like a lighthouse, our Masset branch, with its unique cabin mystique sits like a beacon on the northern coast of Graham Island. Its log walls and cosy atmosphere are what welcome patrons in, but it’s Customer Support Technician, Jo-Anne Zaleski that keeps them coming back.
“I love interacting with the community. Since opening for Takeout Service, I’ve realized how much a part of my job is simply talking to people,” says Jo-Anne. “I felt like a lighthouse keeper, starving to see familiar faces.”
Jo-Anne, who is often referred to by her South African nickname, Etchi is as unique as the walls that surround her.
Having been with VIRL for more than 20 years, Jo-Anne has made the Masset branch her home, reeling in those around her to put together some one-of-a-kind programming.
“I really enjoy shadow puppetry,” says Jo-Anne. “Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, William Steig’s Brave Irene, and Raymond Carver’s Why Don’t You Dance (that I performed with Pat), are some of the shadow plays I’ve facilitated. I inevitably rope people into helping me, either with music accompaniment, or puppet manipulation, so I like that aspect of it as well. Shadow puppetry has a timelessness that I love.”
Jo-Anne has also hosted many evenings with local storytellers including Kung Jaadee, a professional Haida Storyteller.
“We’ve also had evenings with other community members who are simply wonderful storytellers. Genevieve Gay, an adventurer and very animated storyteller held 50 people spellbound in our tiny log library. I love evenings where people learn more about each other, and I love that people who are not performers are willing to share a little of themselves.”
Jo-Anne is also a self-taught storyteller. When she first started with VIRL, she was trained by her dear friend and colleague, Susan, and after a few sessions, Jo-Anne dove in head first.
“It was a little awkward at first because the participation was spotty, but then I started inviting the kindergarten class from the elementary school to come by. It felt natural to slip into the role of Community Support Technician after that,” says Jo-Anne.
Taking the bull by the horns is something Jo-Anne applies in her personal life as well. Last month she weeded the garden, walked the dog, worked on her daughter’s van conversion, fought for the family cat’s affection, and maintained a household while listening to Stephen King’s It through Libby – all 45 hours of it. But VIRL is never far from her mind.
“VIRL has been there while I raised my two children, started a charitable organization for kids, built my house, and nursed my husband at the hospital. I enjoy working for an organization that values creativity and community,” says Jo-Anne.
Now with customers to interact with, Jo-Anne no longer feels the loneliness of a lighthouse keeper, but continues to tend and care for her lighthouse, keeping the library shining bright so her customers can find their way back.
Kaitlin Parker: A Passion for Programming
She’s known in the Port Alberni community as the “Library Lady,” popping into post-natal groups, schools, and daycares to inform people about VIRL’s library services and materials. But what Customer Service Librarian, Kaitlin Parker loves most about her job is her programming.
“Each program is different and you never know what to expect or how well something will be received,” says Kaitlin. “It’s a lot of fun for me to be able to take things I’m passionate about and turn them into programs kids are excited to come to every month.”
Kaitlin has been serving her community for just over a year now, and from her Sphero Painting and Harry Potter activities, to
seasonal crafts and guest visitors, it’s clear that Kaitlin has made her mark. One experience that stands out in particular for Kaitlin is a kindergarten field trip to the branch a month after she started her position.
“The teacher had arranged that each student get a new library card on their visit to take out one book, said Kaitlin. “Most of the students in this class had never been to the library before and quite literally ran to the shelves to pick out a book. One boy hung back to ask for my help in finding books on World War II. His great, great, grandfather had fought.”
Kaitlin was able to show the student how to search on the catalogue and find the Dewey Decimal number for the section and took him to it. “He was so amazed there was a whole shelf on World War II and immediately went to get his friend to ask me for help finding frog books since ‘the Library Lady is magic and knows where all the books in the world are!’” said Kaitlin.
Kaitlin’s passion shines through in the details of each of the programs she runs. During her popular Harry Potter-themed programs, Kaitlin offered the community a Quidditch session and an opportunity to make mandrakes and even learn to read tea leaves. Last December, she made a simple Holiday Card program extra special by donating 180 handmade cards to two local long-term assisted care homes.
She even coordinates her outfits to match the programs she runs! “I have dresses with books, planets, pumpkins, winter animals, hearts, etc., that I will wear to match my weekly story time theme,” says Kaitlin. “The kids all love to guess what the theme of the week is based on what Miss Kaitlin is wearing that morning, and I’ve been referred to as Ms. Frizzle on more than one occasion.”
Although in-branch programs in Port Alberni are temporarily on hold for now, one thing that customers can be certain of, is that the Library Lady will be waiting for them when they resume, no doubt in a new program-themed dress!
April Ripley: A love for literature
It has been said that if you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. This sentiment may be especially true for Customer Service Librarian (CSL), April Ripley.
At the Nanaimo Harbourfront branch, April creates and delivers programs for the community by incorporating the things that she finds personally interesting and fun.
“I have a degree in creative writing and enjoy writing poetry, so it’s especially meaningful for me to work with writers, both emerging and established, to share their work by planning and hosting readings and author events,” says April.
One of the more recent program successes April is particularly proud of is the Big Names, Little City reading series she helped plan with Adult Services CSLs Steinunn Benjaminsson and Casey Stepaniuk.
“We wanted to provide members of our community the opportunity to attend author events featuring some big names in Canadian literature, so we worked hard to book writers and apply for grants and alternate sources of funding that we needed to support the series,” says April.
Through Big Names, Little City, April and her team booked events with author Michael Christie, who was the author for VIRL’s recent One Book, One Community book club, and local Nanaimo treasure, Susan Juby.
“The feedback we received after each of these events left no doubt that the work we put in was valued,” said April.
Griffin Poetry prize winners Eve Joseph and Billy-Ray Belcourt were also set to participate but sadly the series has been put on hold while in-branch services are temporarily suspended.
“Although it’s disappointing that this new undertaking has been cut short, I hope we’ll have the opportunity to pick it up again, in some form.”
As a crafter and art enthusiast, April also looks forward to getting back to teaching a popular monthly craft night for adults, and a partnership April established with the Vancouver Island Master Gardener’s Association to present free gardening seminars at the library.
For now, April continues to pursue her love of literature by writing poetry and reading.
“My reading taste is pretty eclectic and I like a bit of everything. Like many of us, I think I suffer from too-many-books-not-enough-time syndrome,” says April. “Reading takes up much of my leisure time now, but I’m really looking forward to working with our creative and caring team again, and continuing the good work we do in our community.”
Rachelle Desrochers: Igniting imagination in VIRL's Creativity Commons
Spending the day working with 3D printers, surrounded by video games and the latest in virtual technology sounds like a dream, but for VIRL Information Technician Rachelle Desrochers, it’s a reality.
At the Creativity Commons in VIRL’s Harbourfront branch, Rachelle helps our customers’ creative projects come to life, whether it’s digital media, music, or projects using VIRL’s specialized technology like 3D printing and Virtual Reality.
“Through our programs and instructional sessions, we help customers be creative in whatever way that means to the customer,” says Rachelle. “It’s very fulfilling helping them find all the tools they need to take projects to the next level.”
Whether they are new or returning customers, many are shocked with the technology VIRL has to offer says Rachelle, and it makes her tours of the Creativity Commons area that much more exciting. She especially likes showing off the recording area which is set apart from the open floor and filled with professional quality equipment and software for film, photography and music.
But what Rachelle enjoys the most about working in the Creativity Commons is making personal connections with our customers and helping them discover the amazing digital media and e-resources that the library has to offer.
“At our digital conversion station, we had a husband and wife restore decades-old projector slides from the husband’s time abroad,” says Rachelle. “Over a few multi-hour sessions, they converted hundreds of slides and can now share them with friends and family for years to come.”
But it’s not just creative work Rachelle is helping with.
She’s also supporting family fun by encouraging customers to join in for a game on the Nintendo Switch, play a boardgame, tinker with robotics or LEGO, or get silly and take a few photos with VIRL’s green screen.
“It’s great to see parents searching through Ancestry.com records while their teens are on Virtual Reality and younger children are competing in Mario Kart all within the same space,” says Rachelle.
And while a lot of creative projects have been put on hold while VIRL’s branches remained temporarily closed, Rachelle says she’s looking forward to seeing some regulars as soon as her branch returns to full services again.
“There are a couple of customers that were working on creative projects just before the library closed and I’d love to help them pick up from where they left off.”
IT: The Team Behind the Tech
They are the people we call when our email crashes or when we’re having a problem connecting remotely, but VIRL’s Information Technology (IT) team members are much more than the unsung heroes that help us through our work day. In fact, this dedicated team of eight is making strides to provide services and products unparalleled in the world of library services.
Leading the team is new Assistant Director, Amanjit Pandher who joined VIRL just after the library branches temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
“I have been extremely impressed with the dedication of our IT team,” says Amanjit. “Having just seven techs to maintain the activities for this entire organization is incredible.”
IT has been working consistently throughout the pandemic, providing support, adapting to the daily changes in business requirements, and working on a number of major projects surrounding VIRL’s IT infrastructure.
“It’s a testament to the strength of the team that they have been able to help provide continuity of service while working through issues with the technologies they support,” says Amanjit. “We have had a number of things happen that the team has taken the lead on and have adapted to flawlessly.”
Amanjit has spent his career pursuing his passion of technology, business and customer service in various roles at the BC Institute of Technology, the University of the Fraser Valley and the Abbotsford School District. He applied for his new position after being impressed with VIRL’s forward thinking and progressive programs.
“I met many engaging and customer-centric people, which made me excited to be a part of that culture,” says Amanjit. “The Leadership and Executive team have a dedication to improving through technology.”
Making strides across the system
Also on the team are System Support Technicians: Tamsen Bohart, Daniel Burgess, Jeff Martin, Chirag Pandit, Joel Victores, Chris Walther and Systems Services Manager Elizabeth Wright.
“I’m proud to be a member of the IT team,” says Elizabeth. “Every day the Technicians are responsible for an enormous and unique IT infrastructure. Their expertise is highly valued.”
Currently the team is working to migrate staff to Microsoft 365. They are also reviewing and designing a new network infrastructure as part of their Network Remediation project, with the goal of implementing a modern architecture that will improve the staff’s day-to-day experience when interacting with VIRL resources.
If that wasn’t enough to keep them busy, the team is also improving the functionality of our systems to better serve our customers through the Integrated Library System.
“I want to commend the team on their excellent customer service,” says Anne O’Shea, Deputy Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer. “They’ve shown us time and time again that they are highly adaptable and highly skilled in whatever they take on. They are just all around amazing.”
The IT team continues to adapt and adjust in the face of uncertainty and focus on any and all tasks that have been laid in front of them.
“I want to personally give a huge thanks to IT for making my first few months exciting and fruitful,” says Amanjit. “IT is a field that requires a lot of dedication and time, however, taking pride of ownership and celebrating the daily wins makes every day exciting.”
Rachel Paul: From Bowser with Books
We’ve been missing the great people who work at VIRL, so we thought we would take some time to feature some of you here on Inside. Next on our list is Rachel Paul, Circulation Supervisor from the Bowser branch. Rachel opens up about what she misses most at her branch and her optimism during this challenging time.
It has been a little over two months since Circulation Supervisor Rachel Paul stepped into her branch in Bowser, and while she’s taken this time to indulge in hobbies like bee keeping, gardening and mountain biking, the customers in her community are never far from her mind.
“I’m really looking forward to catching up with all the citizens of Bowser,” said Rachel. “Making connections in the community has to be one of the most satisfying elements of my job.”
Though Rachel has only been at our Bowser branch for two years, she is proud of the programs that have launched in that short time including a lively book group, a Philosophy Café and Storytime.
“A group that holds a special place in my heart is the Bowser Knitwits,” says Rachel. “They are a knitting group that has been meeting at the branch since it opened 12 years ago. They are so fun, and believe it or not, a bit rowdy at times.”
The Bowser Knitwits
In her 14-year career with VIRL, Rachel has also had the opportunity to work at several branches and highly recommends anyone wanting to join the VIRL team to do the same if they can.
“Each branch is so unique and there is so much to be learned from every VIRL employee, and from the patrons of each different community,” says Rachel.
And while she often makes connections with the customers in her small branch, Rachel says it can be challenging at times not having the camaraderie of other coworkers to pool knowledge and share ideas with.
Rachel also knows that she may face even more challenges ahead when in-branch services resume, but she knows that support is close by and she remains optimistic.
“My hope is that everyone remembers to be kind and understanding of everyone’s discomfort with all the adjustments ahead, especially their own,” says Rachel. “We’ve all learned a lot about change and our relationship with uncertainty these past months. I hope we can move forward knowing that we are flexible, resilient, and equipped to weather changing circumstances.”
For now, as Rachel waits to see what happens on the road to reopenin
g, she continues to reflect on her fond memories of her branch’s patrons and her favourite group – the Bowser Knitwits.
“I look forward to a time in the future when they can gather again.”
Rodney Frick: A Top Pick
Since our branches closed, we’ve been missing the great people who work at VIRL, so we thought we would take some time to feature some of you here on Inside. First up to bat is Rodney Frick, Library Assistant from Nanaimo Harbourfront.
When it comes to customer dedication, VIRL’s Rodney Frick is a top pick
With his home library topping the shelves at 2,000 books and 500 graphic novels, there’s little doubt that Library Assistant and self-described bibliophile Rodney Frick has a love for literature.
“I have always collected books and frequented second-hand book stores as a teenager,” says Rodney. “In the mid 1990s, I worked at an independent book store and was there for 11 years. So much of my paycheck went back into that store while I was working there.”
Over the years Rodney has squeezed 14 bookcases into his condo to support his collection, five of which he purchased from the Wellington branch when it moved to the Country Club Centre.
Amongst his shelves is a prized first edition of Eye of the World signed by author Robert Jordon, and a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Stories for the Household from 1893.
“I also have some older comic books from the 1950s including the first appearance of Red Kryptonite from the World of Superman,” says Rodney.
And while it’s clear Rodney’s passion lies between the pages of Urban Fantasy and the Science Fiction he reads, he is as equally passionate about helping the customers who frequent our Harbourfront branch.
“I absolutely love being able to find the right books for people,” said Rodney.
Three weeks prior to the branch closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodney was able to do just this.
“I was approached by a mother and her daughter looking for a recommendation,” says Rodney. “They had already read the Harry Potter books as well as the Narnia series.”
Rodney immediately suggested the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, a book series with a strong female character in a medieval world.
A few weeks later, the customer approached Rodney to verify it was indeed him who had suggested the books.
“She had this neutral expression and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Rodney. “Then she gave me a big smile and said that the first book in the series was a real hit, and that she was picking up the second book with the third already on order. They were reading through the series together.”
While Rodney surely misses seeing the smiles on customers’ faces while he continues to support the current stay-at-home measures, he remains dedicated to helping others find the books they are looking for.
“The other day I lent 11 novels to a friend who is missing our library,” said Rodney. “She and her mother wanted to read books by a certain author.”
And of course with all of his time now spent at home as he waits to serve VIRL customers once again, Rodney has been able to finish a few titles himself.
“I can say that in the past 29 days I have read 16 books and seven graphic novels,” says Rodney. “I have a book case of books that I haven’t read yet (about 500 titles) and I am going through it and reading some of them. I will always have something to read and I re-read my books every so often. In many ways, it is like revisiting old friends.”