Ten months after post-COVID budget adjustments ruffled feathers at the Sunshine Coast Regional District finance committee, the Gibsons and District Public Library has unveiled a spate of innovations to cement its status as a cultural nerve centre.
“We should take a moment and really celebrate that our library is thriving and that our community is using it,” said library director Heather Evans-Cullen. “Because there’s so little free public space [in urban places], we are the great equalizer. For everybody who walks in, regardless of background or income status, they have the same access to everything.”
The library has tracked an annual average of 98,750 in-person visits during the last half-decade (about three times the population of the southern Sunshine Coast). This year, circulation of digital items increased by seven per cent, representing almost 50,000 e-books and audiobooks borrowed by cardholders.
In January the library inaugurated a robotic satellite site: an automated book locker at the Gibsons and Area Community Centre. This fall, the facility on South Fletcher Road installed a soundproof chamber that allows solo study or two-person conversations. Its entire fleet of publicly accessible computer terminals has been upgraded.
Most recently, Evans-Cullen and her staff dedicated a prominent shelving area to a “library of things.” Borrowers sign out oversize plastic bins that contain practical items like a toolkit for home maintenance, a sewing machine, or a lamp to countermand seasonal affective disorder.
“We try to really constantly listen and adjust to what the changing needs of our community are,” said Lise Krepps, the library’s outreach coordinator. Krepps joined the organization in 2021 and now plans upward of a dozen events each month that range from tax clinics to movie screenings. “I like to say I throw 15 parties each month,” chuckled Krepps.
In 2023, the Town of Gibsons provided a grant for the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society to offer a writing group whose members are navigating grief. A public reading at the library, led by group facilitator David Roche, attracted a capacity audience.
A summertime community survey identified a need for more youth-friendly access. The library is collecting input that will transform its ranks of streetfront carrels into a dedicated space for teenagers. Teens currently gather in ad hoc areas for structured role-playing games. The renovation project will be funded by the Gibsons and District Library Foundation.
Meanwhile, Evans-Cullen emphasizes that libraries play a vital role in revitalizing economies in straitened times. Free Internet access and computer access promote the free flow of information about local opportunities.
“I also think we’re going to play a big role in emergency planning,” added Evans-Cullen. “With climate change, we need to have public spaces where people can be welcome, providing a safe space for people in heat domes and the cold.”
The library’s latest strategic plan also prioritizes learning opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to further truth and reconciliation. “We’re trying to see ourselves as part of the greater coastal region,” said Evans-Cullen. “Because the shíshálh Nation is amazing and has such a strong prominence on the Coast, some people don’t realize that this is Skwxwú7mesh Nation land. We take it really seriously.”
On Saturday, Dec. 2, the library will serve free cider and cookies during a choral holiday concert featuring the Suncoast Phoenix Community Choir and Sunshine Coast Children’s Choir and Wild Voices. Full program listings are available online at gibsons.bc.libraries.coop.