The Whistler Public Library's remarkable year 

New strategic plan focuses on community outreach, emerging technologies

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One of B.C.'s busiest libraries just keeps getting busier, with the Whistler Public Library (WPL) reporting an 18-per-cent jump in visitation in its 2013 annual report.

Whistler's library saw annual visitation increase to 232,000 in 2013, up over 35,000 visits from the previous year. The positive trend has continued into 2014 in part due to the return of Sunday hours in April. The library cut back hours and closed on Sundays in 2010 due to a budget shortfall.

The WPL continues to be the busiest library per capita in all of B.C.

"When I first came to work at the library, Sunday was the No. 1 thing I heard from people every week," library director Elizabeth Tracy said in a presentation to council last week. "I hope these numbers show you that allocating resources to the library for Sunday has been a good return on investment. I would also hope that this would plant the seed that further expansion of hours would have a similarly successful return on investment later."

With an increased focus on digital usership, virtual visits through the library's website were also on the rise, with just over 100,000 visits last year, a 31-per-cent hike. The WPL launched an expansion to its digital collection last year, giving members exclusive access to certain titles that would otherwise be unavailable.

"Thanks to our (digital catalogue) BiblioCommons, which really gives us a 24-hour presence, we really enjoyed a significant usership, and what this tell us is going forward into the future we're going to have to grow and cultivate these electronic resources," Tracy said.

The WPL also increased its lineup of free community programming by 24 per cent, with just over 1,000 programs offered in 2013.

"This was actually a result of a lot of effort by our children's department to reach out to our schools," Tracy noted. "It was also the byproduct of many productive relationships with community organizations, like the Whistler Multicultural Network, the (Whistler) Arts Council and Whistler Community Services."

Councillor John Grills applauded the library board and staff for maintaining the relevancy of one of Whistler's most beloved community resources.

"At a time when libraries are really struggling in communities to remain current or even viable, what's taken place here in the last year or so is quite remarkable, and it's great for the community," he said.

The library rolled out its three-year strategic plan at last Tuesday's council meeting (Oct.21), outlining its continued commitment to service expansion through the availability of innovative technologies, like eReaders and iPads. Other initiatives planned include an option for patrons to pay fines online or through self-check, identifying vending technology that would offer library resources at alternate locations and installing further automated checkout systems that don't require staff help.

Efforts to reinvent the library common space so that it promotes comfort and removes visible barriers will continue with the installation of new service desks that are easier to move around.

Staff is also looking to further develop keynote events that expose the library to a wider audience, and expand services to special interest groups based around music, politics, teens and book clubs, for example.

The updated strategic plan was widely praised by council.

"This strategic plan is not just theory, it's practice and I'm very impressed," said Councillor Jack Crompton. "I think walking into the library, you can see the change, you can see the difference and you can experience it."

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