Libraries turn 75

The Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards says in his recent memoir there are two institutional places that most powerfully affect youngsters.

The Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards says in his recent memoir there are two institutional places that most powerfully affect youngsters.

“The church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you,” said the legendary guitarist.  “The public library is a great equalizer.”

Vancouver Island Regional Library celebrates 75 years this month and to say there have been changes is an understatement.

From humble beginnings with just 12,600 books, six branches and seven van routes in the central Island region, to a system with more than 1.1 million items and 38 branches, the VIRL — where, incidentally, one can borrow Richards’ memoir in three forms: book, audiobook on CD, or as a download to computers, e-readers or MP3 players — is the fourth largest library system in British Columbia and the 13th largest in Canada.

It serves  folks on Vancouver Island from north of Victoria to Haida Gwaii and Bella Coola on the central mainland coast.

The VIRL has a history linked to a $6,500 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Corporation of New York in the 1930s.

It took two plebiscites, but in 1936 Vancouver Island Union Library was born, headquartered in a basement on the corner of Wallace and Fraser Streets in Nanaimo.

Times have changed, and people frequently wonder about the future of libraries.

“Why do we need libraries?” asked Rosemary Bonanno, VIRL’s executive director.

“The answer comes in three parts: Libraries embrace the digital age; libraries bring technology to everyone; traditional library materials, services and programs are alive and well,” she says.

The quiet buildings once devoted solely to reading and research and supervised by librarians who shushed patrons into compliant silence now are busy gathering places and community hubs that provide everyone equal access to computers, technology, and other online resources.

It’s not just the so-called intellectuals who grasp and understand the powerful role of libraries.

For more information on VIRL’s history and when branches were established, please visit the website: www.virl.bc.ca (Spotlight on …).

VIRL customer appreciation day happens Sept. 27 in Port Hardy, Sept. 28  in Port McNeill and Port Alice and finally Sept. 29 in Woss and Sointula.

Refreshments will be served.