Vancouver Island Regional Library’s new strategic plan aims to improve literacy rates and equity as well as create safe and inclusive spaces, among other goals on its path to 90 years of service.
The library says over 3,000 people participated in public engagement, which included a survey and workshops in the fall of 2022. Sixty-one individuals who took the survey said they resided on Gabriola Island and 10 Gabriolans participated in an in-branch, in-depth engagement session last November.
Now in its 87th year, the regional library has branches in 38 jurisdictions across 42,000 square kilometres. The plan is shaped around service design – how internal functions affect delivery – and social innovation – using new approaches to address social needs and problems, a decision VIRL’s plan says was influenced by community partners wanting to know how the library system could specifically address the socio-economic and environmental wellbeing of individuals and communities.
“Our communities are in transition,” the plan says, describing Reconciliation as “one of the region’s greatest opportunities” and highlights challenges include economic diversification, climate change, the toxic drug and opioid crises, housing and affordability.
The five goals of the strategic plan include improving the literacy rates across the region, citing data that 45 per cent of British Columbians aged 16-45 have difficulty in accomplishing some daily living tasks due in part to limited literacy skills. That data, however, from a Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies survey, is over 10 years old.
The remaining four goals are to review, innovate and design service models in service to equity, including expanding the reach in rural and remote communities; extend the impact and reach of services through partnerships and reciprocity, including engaging with “non-traditional partners;” foster safe, inclusive and welcoming spaces and collective services; and grow organizational culture and effectiveness, including supporting the library’s workforce “to anticipate and respond to challenges and opportunities.”
In 2022, unionized librarians went on strike for over a month before a new agreement was ratified. At issue at the time were wages as well as improving occupational health and safety, including psychological health.
VIRL says it will measure the progress of its goals against nine of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It marks the first time VIRL has taken this approach and it believes it is the first public library in Canada to do so, VIRL staff said.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder