Saturday, November 15, 2008

Library reaches far beyond books to music, film and more

The Sun's guide to living wisely

Denise Ryan
Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 15

For anyone hooked on Google for information, Blockbuster for DVDs and Amazon for books delivered to the door, using your local library may seem a quaint idea -- like going back to elementary school, or visiting the house you grew up in to see how small its rooms look.

But libraries aren't just books any more, and a return to library use may be just what we need to shave a few line items off the budget.

Libraries are booming, partly because what they offer now is "far beyond books," said Ross Bliss, manager of lending services and popular reading at the Vancouver Public Library.

Major jumps in circulation over the last 10 years attest to the fact that libraries are more than keeping up with contemporary tastes. Circulation of books is up 24 per cent, juvenile lit is up 52 per cent and audio-visual materials have jumped up 106 per cent.

"We also have circulating magazines, current and past issues, and a vast collection of reference magazines, music CDs, spoken word, audio books, many of them in mp3 formats, language-learning kits, popular films, and instructional DVDs," Bliss said.

What many people still don't know, he said, is how incredibly easy and convenient the Internet has made public library access.

"The catalogues for all these things are all available online at," Bliss said. In addition, each library card holder has 50 free reserves a year, and whatever you order will be delivered to the library of your choice.

When you want to return something you can drop it off at any branch.

Not only that, Bliss said, but through the website you can access the library's most "unsung treasure," access to thousands of magazines worldwide.

"You get the full text and full indexing for thousands of magazines, every issue, every article is indexed and almost all of them are full text. You can read them onscreen, download them, print them. This is proprietary stuff, it's not free to the whole world, but if you have a Vancouver library card, you can log on from anywhere in the world.

"Say you like Guitar Player for example, you can go online and read every issue. Or you want to research a digital camera, you can read everything that's been published about a particular model in photography magazines."

If you want to set up a book club, the library system provides sets of books for loaning out. The sets are handed over in a tote bag, with guidelines, a set of instructions and frequently asked questions.

"Again, you can do it online, and the books would be sent to your local library," Bliss said.

The VPL offers books in more than a dozen languages, and bases its multilingual collections on local demographics.

Bliss is also excited about the VPL's genealogy data base.

The VPL subscribes to the library edition of, and it is available to users online. "It's a crazy resource for doing genealogical research, just fantastic, but very expensive for an individual to subscribe to," Bliss said. The library also offers the very popular Chinese Genealogy Wiki.

The search interface on the website is easy to use. Simply log in with your library card from home, request the first available copy if you want a film or book, and type in which branch you'd like to have it delivered to.

There are good reasons to make the trek to your library too. In addition to reading programs for all ages, there are musical performances, lectures and entertainment.

"It's a place to socialize," Bliss said. "It's a place to relax, there are activated spaces, quiet spaces and spaces for community use. You can even bring your coffee, as long as it has a lid."