As the Okanagan Regional Library approaches its 80th year in operation, it continues to serve as a major hub for citizens, with demand for library services increasing all across the valley.
Ever since the regional library was established in 1936, the organization has strived to create a world-class collection of books, videos, classes, and digital resources for Okanagan residents to enjoy.
And as Kelowna has grown, the library has seen multiple moves, expansions, and development of new branches in order to accommodate the community’s growing needs.
“When the library was established in 1936, its first annual budget was $11,125,” says Marla O’Brien, ORL’s public relations and fundraising manager.
“Some people in Kelowna might remember the old library on Queensway Avenue. (We acquired it) in 1955, and then in 1961, another half-storey addition was put on for use as an art gallery, film room and librarian’s office.
“Then in 1967, we established our BookMobile service, which ran until 1991. That was a great way to circulate books to places that aren’t large enough to support a branch.”
O’Brien notes that the library has always been at the forefront of technological movements starting in the 1960s, when the National Film Board of Canada allowed the ORL to purchase 600 films.
The 1980s saw the library acquire a variety of cassette and VHS tapes, and with the expansion into DVDs and digital media, the library kept up with the new advances.
Public services manager Georgia McKay says that the library’s growth has brought challenges, specifically a struggle to keep up with community demands.
“There’s huge demand for the services we provide,” she says. “There’s demand for longer open hours, more branches, more resources. We’re quite creative in terms of finding ways to provide people with services given what we have.
“For every dollar the government invests in us, the community gets about $17 worth of services.”
Community librarian Sheila Coe says that the Rutland library expansion came about when the library discovered that their old location wasn’t easily visible from the road, and few people knew the library was even there.
“While we were in the Plaza 33 mall, they kept changing the structure. Five or six years ago we moved down to the Cooper’s end of the mall because we needed windows. We were losing people,” she says.
After moving the library, Coe says that the community interest once again boomed.
“Just yesterday we had four staff, and not once did we have time to stop what we were doing. It was person after person. We get lots of young mothers in reading to their children. It’s fabulous,” Coe says.
The library still isn’t done growing, it seems, with the Kelowna downtown branch on Ellis Street looking at new options for its Great Room. The library staff say those potential options include a green screen, a sound studio or a maker space.
“Libraries are evolving to help people access technology that might not otherwise be available,” O’Brien says.
“The next evolution is high-end technology. There are libraries in Europe that have sound studios or self-publishing machines. We’re excited about what possibilities the future holds.”