Through the fall, Vancouver Island Regional Library is running community workshops, focus groups and an online survey to collect input on the direction of the library system over the next five years.
The library system covers 42,000 square kilometres and 39 branches, 20 of which are considered rural or remote as defined by the province.
Since 2016 nine libraries have either been built or renovated. It also delivers remote delivery such as books by mail, which is “resurfacing as an effective library service,” VIRL’s strategic planning webpage notes.
This round of planning, which happens every five years, will involve “recasting 1/8 VIRL’s 3/8 priorities through the lens of broader regional priorities, reconciliation, and the climate emergency,” the online survey introduction says.
Discussion will involve lessons learned through the COVID-19 pandemic including the impacts of social isolation on individuals and families, and how the rising cost of living, varying literacy rates, the toxic drug crisis and homelessness are affecting communities and the library‘s branches.
VIRL’s board of trustees extended its 2016-20 strategic plan through 2022 due to the pandemic. The next strategic plan will build on the previous one “while moving us forward to respond to changing needs in the communities we serve,” David Carson, VIRL’s director of communications, told the Sounder.
“From compound crises to affordability and changing expectations for digital service delivery and programming, there are many exciting opportunities ahead, and many complex challenges also.”
The library system has seen significant growth in digital library usage in the last few years – it now accounts for a third of overall use. Traditional borrowing is beginning to rebound from its lows in 2020, Carson said, but digital is “showing no signs of waning.”
Themes like inclusivity and diversity, safety, accessibility and connections are all on the table during the planning process.
“One of the hopes for our next strategic plan is to situate the library in the conversations about making our communities more connected, compassionate, literate, healthy, accessible and safe,” Carson said.
A community workshop happens Oct. 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Gabriola Island branch. Registration for that session as well as virtual sessions and focus groups, the latter meant for anyone interested in taking a “deeper dive” into topics like literacy, safe space and economic development, is via www.virl.bc.ca/strategic-plan. An online survey is also open for submissions.
VIRL intends to present the plan to trustees in the winter, with deployment in spring 2023.
By Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter