Library shifting to meet needs of community 

B.C.'s busiest per capita library working to improve access, increase hours

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The idea that print is endangered and technology is making libraries irrelevant couldn't be more wrong in the town of Whistler, which boasts one of the busiest per capita libraries in the province.

You might think this has to do with free Wi-Fi and the computer lab, or the fact that after Rogers Video closed last year the Whistler Public Library is now the default video rental store for the community, but it's not the case. The most popular items in the library circulation remain adult fiction and children's picture books.

"I know, right?" laughs library director Elizabeth Tracy, who took over management of the library four months ago after serving as head librarian in Telluride, Colorado — a ski resort like Whistler. "There's still a lot of demand for old, traditional uses, but at the same time we're also adopting all the latest multimedia and technologies out there, and those things are growing for us as well."

Since Tracy arrived she says she's been working to restructure operationally as well as finding new ways to work with other stakeholders to better serve the community.

One of their goals is to increase library hours, which were reduced in 2010 as a result of a budget shortfall of $54,000. As a result, they cut hours and closed Sundays.

In the last municipal election, several candidates said they would support an increase in funding for the library to restore those hours. While Tracy was not around during the decision-making, she is optimistic that they will succeed.

"Most definitely (expanding to seven days) is on our radar, and we've been doing a lot of reorganizing of hours in our library to be able to pursue that and to be able to meet community needs in the future," said Tracy. "Spring is our strategic planning session, and a lot is going to come about from that process. It's on our minds, it's the goal, right now we're ascertaining how to make that happen."

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden supported increasing library funding in her campaign and said the issue is on council's radar as well. "What happened this year was was that the library was without an executive director for several months, and the library and board set their own budget... so we stepped back to allow the library time to do what they needed to do to replace the executive director and give her time to put her own stamp on things."

Wilhelm-Morden noted that both the municipality and library are entering the budget process, and council will meet with the library board on December 18.

Meanwhile, fall is typically one of the busiest seasons for the library with upwards of 10 new members signing up every day, and increased demand for the computer lab and Wi-Fi as newcomers to the resort get their bearings. Daily traffic is usually between 700 and 800 averaged out annually, and this past Saturday saw 860 people come through the doors — "and Saturday is not even our busiest day," said Nadine White from the library's adult services department. Provincially, the library has more per capita visits than any library in the province and more daily visits than the library in West Vancouver.

With second homeowners and seasonal workers, library membership represents 119 per cent of the year-round population, which is well over double the 47 per cent provincial average.

Registration is slightly behind last year, but Tracy expects that it will pick up as more workers arrive in the resort. Typically the period before and immediately after the job fairs is the busiest for the front desk.

Recognizing that their identification requirements made it difficult for newcomers to get library cards, White said the system has been simplified. Newcomers can get up to three books by showing one piece of identification and providing an address where a library card will be mailed to them. Once they pick up their card, they're allowed unlimited checkouts. "We recognized that not everybody is going to have a pay stub with their name on it or a credit card," said White. "We want to get rid of impediments to using the library everywhere we find them, and make it more accessible."

—This is the first in a three part series.Next week the Pique looks at how the Whistler Public Library is embracing technology.

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