Canadian Libraries Spotlight: Vancouver Public Library

In January we put a call out for Canadian Youth Services Library content, and we have been overjoyed at the response! This post is the third in our guest post series highlighting the amazing work being done in Canadian libraries to serve children and families. Join us as guest blogger this week Jane Whittingham, Children’s Librarian at the Vancouver Public Library, talks about doing outreach in her community. *Pssst, click on Jane’s name to check out her totally awesome blog!*

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“So, what exactly does a librarian do all day?” I’m sure I’m not the only librarian who fields this question on a regular basis from curious friends and relations. While traditional reference and reader’s advisory remain important aspects of my work as a children’s librarian, what really surprises people is the amount of time I spend away from the reference desk, out of the branch and within the community.

As a children’s librarian with the Vancouver Public Library in Vancouver, British Columbia, providing exceptional service to children and families in our community often means thinking outside the box. A brilliant example of this approach to librarianship is VPL’s Language Fun Story Time program, which was co-developed by VPL librarian Tess Prendergast and speech language pathologist Rhea Lazar. This adapted story time for children with different abilities, including children on the autism spectrum, is jointly facilitated by a librarian and a speech language pathologist, with each specialist bringing their individual expertise. Programs are delivered outside the library, in community health centers, rec centers, and other community spaces, and bring the support and benefits of library story times to families who may not feel comfortable in traditional library spaces, or who may face barriers to access that prevent them from participating in conventional library programming.

VPL children’s librarians deliver story times and speak to families at shopping centers, community and recreation centers, preschools and elementary schools, and neighborhood houses. We visit food banks and shelters, health units and hospitals, and participate in community festivals and cultural celebrations. By venturing outside the walls of the library and embedding ourselves in the community, we are able to connect with families from all walks of life and from different cultural, linguistic, and economic backgrounds, bringing the awesomeness of the library to all corners of our city.

vpldotsCommunity outreach is particularly important in an increasingly diverse city like Vancouver. Those of us who grew up in North America may take it for granted that libraries are free and open to all, but libraries take different forms in different countries, and these assumptions are not universal. Community outreach allows us to connect with people who may feel too intimidated to enter the library because of language barriers, think the library has a membership fee they can’t afford, not see the value in the library because they do not read English material, or assume that children are not welcome in a quiet, formal space like a library. By being present and visible in the neighborhood, VPL’s children’s librarians are able to connect with families who might otherwise never even think about visiting their local library, and who might miss out on all the wonderful things the library has to offer.

There has never been a more exciting time to be a children’s librarian. With this emphasis on outreach and community-led librarianship, we are able to serve families in our community wherever they are, and challenge long-standing barriers that may have prevented children and their caregivers from taking advantage of all the many great things that are available to them at the library.  It’s also a heck of a lot of fun!

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