VIRL announces new virtual services for customers and a road map to in-branch services

May 4, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges and disruptions across industries, organizations, and individuals. We have all been affected and libraries are no different. On March 16, 2020, Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) temporarily suspended all in-branch services to help combat the spread of COVID-19 — a decision that held the health and safety of VIRL staff and the public as its central guiding tenant.

“Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that just a few short months ago, COVID-19 was not even a word, let alone a global pandemic impacting our lives, loved ones, and many of our livelihoods,” says VIRL’s Executive Director, Rosemary Bonanno. “As the realities of COVID-19 became apparent, we acted quickly and decisively to ensure that our staff and customers were not in harm’s way. Closing our branches was the best decision we could make to keep people safe. I am proud of the response my staff provided to our customers up and down our service area.”

Initial Response

In the immediate days after suspending in-branch services, staff quickly pivoted and focused efforts on promoting and expanding VIRL’s digital offerings. This included:

  • Expanding the number of always-available eBook and eAudiobook titles
  • Offering WiFi services, in most cases 24/7, outside all VIRL branches
  • Increasing access to the popular streaming TV and film platforms, Kanopy and AcornTV
  • Promoting VIRL’s platforms and resources across all of our channels and to our community partners

As a result of these efforts, VIRL saw:

  • 50% increase in eBooks borrowing
  • 30% increase in eAudiobook borrowing
  • 19% increase in digital magazines checked out each day
  • 15% increase in movies, TV shows, and music streamed daily
  • 15% increase in the use of online learning through

On March 27, VIRL rolled out an online membership platform. Since launching this service, almost 1,200 people have signed up for a library card to take advantage of VIRL’s exciting and diverse digital services.

Expanded services

In the coming days, more services are coming to help VIRL customers stay connected and informed.

Customers with questions about VIRL’s digital tools, resources, and databases will be able to set up virtual appointments with staff over the phone, email, or web-based platform to have their questions addressed. Expanded email and telephone service will also allow staff to engage more quickly and thoroughly with customers.

Online programming, including Storytimes, books clubs, learning opportunities, and more, are in the pipeline and nearing implementation.

Looking ahead

A recently formed Renewal and Recovery Taskforce will develop a strategy and roadmap for how VIRL can resume offering in-branch services to customers. All decisions will be driven by the direction and guidance of health authorities.

In recent days, a number of library systems in BC have begun rolling out curbside pick-up of physical materials and VIRL has heard from a growing number of customers who are hungry for books. The models being implemented by other systems will be carefully reviewed by the taskforce, among other ideas and plans put forth by team members and other library systems.

“We understand just how important libraries are to so many in our communities,” says Melissa Legacy, VIRL’s Director of Library Services and Planning. “Whether it’s providing books to families, combatting social isolation for seniors, or offering a safe and welcoming space to people in need, libraries mean so much to so many and we are committed to providing services and supports to our communities as soon as it is safe to do so.”

As a regional system covering almost 45,000 square kilometres — including a mix of urban, rural, and remote branches — VIRL has unique challenges, considerations, and opportunities that the taskforce will consider. There is no one-size-fits-all model VIRL reopening our branches, but all options are on the table as the taskforce arrives at its recommendations. While it is too soon to pin a timeline to the resumption of in-branch services, VIRL is committed to bringing services back to our communities with health and safety as the number one consideration.

Media Contact
David Carson, Director, Corporate Communications and Strategic Initiatives
Direct: 250.753.1154 ex 248
Cell: 250.327.3651