Making the library a hub for community 

Work advice, tax preparation, Quest university lecturers, games nights, movie nights and more

click to enlarge MORE THAN BOOKS Since arriving in Whistler this summer, library director Elizabeth Tracy has been working with the board and staff to streamline the organization to be able to offer more hours and services to the community.
  • MORE THAN BOOKS Since arriving in Whistler this summer, library director Elizabeth Tracy has been working with the board and staff to streamline the organization to be able to offer more hours and services to the community.

The Whistler Public Library is no longer just a place where people sit quietly and do traditional library things like read. The library's mandate is to find new ways to be useful to the community, whether it's providing a meeting place or meeting community needs for service and education — and to that end they've left no stone unturned. They've expanded regular programming for adults and children, worked with other community organizations to fill in gaps, and have opened the facility to some very different types of activities.

This isn't an occasional kind of thing either. "Last year we hosted 907 programs and the attendance we had from the community was higher than in West Vancouver," said library director Elizabeth Tracy.

Given that the library is open six days a week, that's an average of just under three programs per day. Combined attendance was over 10,000, and averaged out over the full-time population of the resort the attendance was about 1.1 programs per resident, the highest participation rate in the province — yet another top-of-province statistic for a library that also boasts the highest per capita visits and library card ownership.

The library's programs run the gamut. There are educational tracks that teach people how to use computers and technology. There's a Movie Club, which screens film festival-calibre movies through a subscription that the library currently holds.

There's a Games Night organized by the Friends of the Whistler Public Library where people can come out and play card and board games and meet people.

"I've never seen a library games night attended by so many people," said Tracy.

"We get a lot of regulars who come to play strategy games, but every fall we get a lot of newcomers to the resort that don't know many people and play some of the more casual games as well."

The Whistler Public Library also hosts a Quest Lecture Series with professors at Quest University in Squamish. The next lecture on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. invites Dr. David Helfand to talk about methods used to discover new solar systems and how NASA and others search for earth-like planets.

As for services, the Whistler Public Library has partnered with the WorkBC Employment Services Centre, which is based in Function Junction, to bring career counseling and employment services to the library two days a week. People can get career counselling, help with resumes, suggestions how to search for jobs, workshops and training, personal employment planning and more.

"That partnership is growing, explained Tracy. "It started as a drop-in program, but we've added one-on-one appointments on Thursdays and we're doing workshops with them as well."

The library has also worked with Whistler Community Services Society to bring a program to the library where people who can't afford professional help can get help filing their taxes, providing they're relatively simple.

A large number of programs hosted by the library involve children, and mothers with newborns. To reach the same children as the kids get older and head to elementary school, library staff is also travelling to schools to host programs there, as well as bringing in classes for events. It has dedicated sections for children and teens, as well as a room with a door that closes to host programs or to give younger kids a place to run around and act their age.

"I came here from a resort library (in Colorado), and I know that people do live in small spaces and with snow everywhere it's hard to get outside," said Tracy. "It's so important to have a place where kids can run around, and we've heard from parents that this was also the place where a lot of their children learned how to walk. It's indoors, it's out of the weather..."

Tracy was appointed as library director in June after relocating from Telluride, Colorado where she served as the Manager of Youth Services. Since arriving, she's been working with the library board and her staff on a new organizational plan for the library that she hopes will result in increased hours and allow the library to offer more programs and services.

Tracy said they are always looking at new programs and services to add, and for ways to work with other community organizations to leverage the library's space and resources. "Part of serving the community is just being available for the community to use," said Tracy.

This is the final story in a three-part series on the library's efforts to modernize and provide more services to the community.

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