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Looking at the books

Checking in on the community’s hefty literary investment

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At the end of January, the new Whistler Public Library opened its doors and invited people inside. It was a long, expensive road to get to that point, and almost eight months later, it’s time to see how the new facility is faring.

According to information presented at the Whistler council meeting on Sept. 15, the new library is doing very well, drawing a drastically increased amount of foot traffic, and seeing a significant increase in circulation of materials and use of the facility as a result of the increased capacity and profile of the building.

The report also includes average statistics compiled by month, which show an over 700 per cent increase in adult programs, and a 185 per cent increase in the number of visits made in person during the year.

“The use of the library seems to be a good reflection of our community and provides the opportunities that were anticipated in the planning and design phases,” the report states. “The numbers, incomplete as they are, clearly show that we have a success. The seating in the Fireplace Lounge and the Study Carrels are at capacity most of the time; the wireless access and the computers in the Digital Learning Centre are in constant use.”

Lauren Stara, director of library services, compiled the report.

Stara acknowledged that the new WPL was a massive community investment, and said she wants to ensure that people are kept appraised of the facility’s growth.

“That’s one of the reasons I went to council, because I wanted to make sure they saw that it really was a good investment, it wasn’t a waste of money at all,” she explained.

In terms of the number of bodies through the building, Stara said her own expectations have been far exceeded, pointing out that over the past weekend alone, the library saw two back-to-back thousand-person days, when in comparison, a busy day at the old library used to mean about 300 people came through the doors.

“The increase in circulation, the use of library materials, is exactly what we expected, but the computer use, we have more than double the number of computers than we had before, and they’re still always, always in use.”

“It’s a combination of factors,” Stara explained. “I think some of it is people who want to see the building, and in fact, I get a lot of questions about the building. But I also think the location in the village is so much more prominent now that people who couldn’t find the library before — and there were many — it’s right in their face now, and they’re coming in.”

The new library boasts over 12,000 square feet of space, which includes double the shelf space and new areas, like the Community Room, The Burrow and the Fireplace Lounge, to hold children and adult programs. The increase in space has allowed the library to partner with many organizations, like Community Health, Literacy Now, LUNA and the Vicious Circle, to host events.

“I have a giant list of organizations that we’ve partnered with already,” said Stara. “All of these things have to do with events that we just couldn’t accommodate before.”

With all of the additional space at the new facility, there have been opportunities to expand programming as well. And during the fall months, the WPL will play host to six guest speakers, including well-known authors like Jean Barman, Leslie Anthony, Bill Richardson, and Steven Galloway.

Though they don’t have statistics on annual new memberships yet, Stara said the number of people signing up to take out materials has definitely increased, and there are sure to be more to come.

“Of course, later in October and November is when we get our huge influx of seasonal workers,” she explained. “We literally issue hundreds of library cards every day during that time.”

Library staff has been receiving a lot of feedback from people who come into the new facility, whether it is just to check out the building, or to borrow materials.

“People absolutely love it. Not only is it architecturally beautiful, but this is the kind of library that a community like this needs,” she said.

What staff refers to as “Whistler’s living room” is often packed.

“We need more furniture already, because all the easy chairs are full all the time,” Stara added. “We have to ask adults in the children’s library to leave because those chairs are for children and parents, and people camp out over there and do their homework and stuff. It’s such a great validation of not only the library, but the municipality and the community at large, that people are really embracing this place.”

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