VIRL celebrates 75 years

From humble beginnings with 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 — that’s the story of Vancouver Island Regional Library, which celebrates 75 years of service this month.

From humble beginnings with 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 — that’s the story of Vancouver Island Regional Library, which celebrates 75 years of service this month.

Its history is inextricably linked to a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Corporation of New York to start a small system that has grown into the fourth largest library system in British Columbia — the 13th largest in Canada — serving Vancouver Island from north of Victoria to Haida Gwaii and Bella Coola on the central mainland coast.

While Victoria and Vancouver had enjoyed municipal libraries since the late 1800s, only 30 per cent of BC’s urban population had access to a library; only five percent in rural areas.

During the early 1930s, a $100,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation started a regional library system in the Fraser Valley — the first of its kind in the world.

The library was popular with residents, and a decision was made to try similar systems in the Okanagan and Vancouver Island regions. Carnegie provided $15,000 — Vancouver Island only received $6,500 of this startup grant.

Voters had to determine in a plebiscite to approve a library tax to provide the best books, for the most people, at the least cost. It took two plebiscites before Vancouver Island Union Library was born, in 1936.

The headquarters were in a basement on the corner of Wallace and Fraser Streets in Nanaimo. Later, the name was changed to Vancouver Island Regional Library.

The first library board envisioned a system that would grow as more municipalities and school districts joined. Sadly, this was not the case as it was the Depression, followed by the war years when van deliveries occurred only once every eight weeks due to gas and tires shortages.

Times have changed, and people frequently wonder about the future of libraries. Their underlying comments are: “eBooks are huge; the Internet is where people find information.

“Why do we need libraries?” says Rosemary Bonanno, executive director, Vancouver Island Regional Library.

“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.

Technology has certainly changed the library. 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.

“When you are growing up, there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully,” says Keith Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, in his recent memoir Life. “The church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer.”

At Vancouver Island Regional Library you can borrow Richards’ memoir in three forms: book, audiobook on CD, or downloadable to your computer, e-reader or MP3 player.

For more information on VIRL’s history and when branches were established, visit the website at www.virl.bc.ca.

— Vancouver Island Regional Library

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Courtenay Nissan’s Matthew Bourassa, Geoff Piper and Sean LaFleur join YANA’s Ashley Smith, Kelly Rusk and Lisa Wilcox for the 4x4x48 event to raise funds. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Courtenay Nissan eats and runs for YANA

Dealership realized non-profit groups need new ways to raise funds during COVID

Rev. Sulin Milne at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Comox is part of those helping distribute food to those in need within the town. Photo by Jim Peacock
Comox church serving the community with food through COVID-19

“We knew there were so many people who were facing economic challenges …”

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Courtenay man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Cole Moore’s sister sets up GoFundMe to help father looking after brother

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Nineteen people arrested, charges expected in Courtenay house raid

Investigators are continuing to comb through evidence seized

Demonstrators gathered Friday, March 5 at the Courtenay Court House, demanding protection of old-growth forests. Scott Stanfield photo
Concerned citizens march in Courtenay in name of old-growth rainforests

The Comox Valley is one of the B.C. communities engaged in mobilization… Continue reading

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ in Metchosin

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read