Sunday June 12, 2022 | SOOKE, BC [Last update June 14, 2022]
by Mary P Brooke, Editor, Island Social Trends | Ms Brooke has been covering the news of Sooke (and the long-duration Sooke Library story) since 2008.
Since when does a quiet library burst forth at the seams with a party? In Sooke, of course!
After about 14 years in the making, the new Sooke Library branch on Wadams Way in central Sooke was celebrated by its parent organization the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) on Saturday June 11, 2022.
Easily almost 250 people — of all ages — were in attendance at the June 11 bash over the course of the event. There were moms with infants and toddlers, school-age kids and teens, adults of the community and political set, and older residents.
The turnout was remarkable on several levels of organization and politics, but notably that there is still an active COVID-19 pandemic, and that it was held on a sunny dry Saturday afternoon when there were plenty of other things to do in town.
Key leadership players were there. That included the current VIRL Chair Gaby Wickstrom (Mayor of Port McNeil), VIRL Executive Director Ben Hyman (who came into the job mid-2021), and two local politicians who produced most of the push to make the land available (led by Juan de Fuca Electoral Area Director Mike Hicks) and keeping the issue somewhat on the political front burner when she was on Sooke Council (former District of Sooke Councillor Kerrie Reay).
The peculiarly long facility-development timeline was presented in a matter-of-fact manner by District of Sooke Mayor Maja Tait, who has been on council since 2008. That’s the same period of time as how long it has taken to produce the new library. Sooke mayors in that time span have been Janet Evans (1999-2011), Wendal Milne (2011-2014), and Maja Tait (since 2014).
Playing a significant communications role in the project over the last several years has been David Carson, VIRL Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives. Carson has been to Sooke many times over the years to help guide the path forward for the new branch.
Previous to working with Hyman, Carson hoed the long road with now-retired VIRL Executive Director Rosemary Bonanno who had become a fixture of the Sooke library journey for over a decade.
During the official remarks at the podium yesterday, Carson thanked a very long list of VIRL staffers who have helped with the project along the way.
The complex organizational feat of presenting the grand opening day was orchestrated under Carson’s purview.
Land deal was needed:
The key issue to launching a new library was convincing the business community and many long-time rural taxpayers that giving land to VIRL at no charge was the way forward. District of Sooke Councillor Ron Dumont kept the Sooke Library project in “the top ten” during his years on Sooke Council (in the 2000s).
The VIRL model for providing a branch in each community is to accept free land from the municipality then underwrite all the costs to produce a library (design, construction, collections, staff — the whole shebang).
The success for land acquisition really goes to Hicks, who orchestrated the awareness of ‘Lot A’ (a piece of land in Sooke town centre behind the Evergreen Shopping Centre) to VIRL, and looped that in with the District of Sooke’s support.
VIRL receives tax revenues from both the District of Sooke and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area. Both jurisdictions are part of the Capital Regional District (CRD), which helped in 2015 with loan-backing for the new branch along the way.
Construction got underway in 2020:
The 13,412 sq ft library is on over an acre of land. Building construction finally got underway in 2020 during the pandemic.
Apparently classes of school children took outings during the pandemic to see the construction of their future town library. Native plant species were relocated by a teacher from SD62’s Sooke Elementary and replanted at the school for educational activities.
The 5-acre parcel of land finally secured by the District in 2017 will (in future, according to Mayor Tait) also possibly support a transit hub, a seniors/youth centre, and an expansion of local medical facilities or services.
New branch pizzazz:
The round building design is a key feature. Indoors, in addition to plenty of light through large windows, there are heated floors for interior comfort, and the physical arrangement of the book-stacks feels ample but also spacious.
A lounge with fireplace feels intimately inviting but can seat quite a few people.
Who knows if it takes a new building to incite a community, but the vibrant open space of the new Sooke Library would likely draw in even the most library-reluctant customer.
Even back in the early library-consultation days of 2009-2011 there were Sooke residents who said they hadn’t been in a library in years given the immediacy of information through the Internet. That would have extended to youth as well, whose generation has been essentially plugged into the Internet from birth.
The huge windows, the wood trim, the bright colours, the inviting spaces — including chairs with large ‘wings’ at eye level which would offer privacy — together bring bling to the library experience.
Some padded reading chairs have ‘ear wings’ to block sound and provide privacy. Individual computer workstations are part of the offering.
There is a small-seat children’s reading area and books highlighted for teens.
The interior would have felt even more spacious during the official opening had there not been over 200 people packed in and doing activities yesterday. But had the design not already been spacious, that event would have felt crowded. It felt robustly populated but not crowded. Kudos to the architects and designers.
The new Sooke Library branch has been open to the public since February 25, 2022. The grand opening was postponed from its original March 26 date due to a strike by the BCGEU librarians who work in the VIRL system.
Lots of numbers were blown out to the crowd during the official opening speeches. Such as the number of new visitors (over 5,000 since the opening to end of April), new cardholders (1,441 since the opening, for a total of 5,844), and the number of physical items checked out (almost 25,000 physical items circulated since February 25).
Although she is the Mayor of Port McNeill, Gaby Wickstrom (in her role as VIRL Chair) promoted the population growth seen in the District of Sooke, noting 2,400 more residents in the period 2016-2021 (a 13.7% population increase). With people coming to the Sooke branch from Shirley, East Sooke, Jordan River “and even Port Renfrew”, Wickstrom pitched that as positive for Sooke’s economic development. Sooke has in fact seen a housing construction boom in particular since 2017; this new library is one way in which the town is trying to keep up with the service expectations of incoming residents from larger cities.
Evidently, the ongoing VIRL customer service satisfaction survey shows Sooke Library customer satisfaction at 9.54 out of 10. That was met with a round of applause from the crowd seated in front of the podium.
The official ribbon-cutting on June 11 was undertaken by the Sooke mayor, together with the region’s federal member of parliament Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke) who traveled back from Ottawa for the weekend to be in Sooke, as well VIRL Chair Gaby Wickstrom and T’Sou-ke Nation Elder Shirley Alphonse.
The VIPs were joined by three school-age children and a preschooler who brought forth from the front row; those kids helped with the important job of holding either end of the ribbon that was met by scissors under the mayor’s hand.
In the background of many Sooke journeys has been T’Sou-ke Elder Shirley Alphonse, who yesterday addressed those who sat in front of the podium. She called the new library “a place of quiet solitude”, even though the speeches could barely be heard above the din of the festivities in the branch. “We are thankful and grateful for the freedom to learn,” said Alphonse, as the first speaker of the official ceremony.
Remarks were read out from Minister of Municipal Affairs Nathan Cullen who could not attend. “Libraries act as pillars of democracy… for people to have free access to ideas and knowledge,” was given as a quote. “Libraries reflect the communities they serve,” he said through the remarks given on his behalf. “The Sooke Library is growing right along with your thriving region,” said Cullen, who is apparently looking forward to visiting the branch soon.
Before, during and after the ribbon cutting there was face-painting, 3-D printing activities, and other activities for kids and families. There was music indoors, and outdoors a live raptor show by Pacific North West Raptors just beyond the front doors.
The VIRL mascot Tales the Whale — a walking, waving orca — attended in costume for the entire afternoon event (1:30 to 4 pm). Tales the Whale was accompanied by a guide, to help him maneuver around the event in that must’ve-been-hot costume, through the bustling crowds for hours.
Conversations and conclusions:
Just as a library should, the pleasant interior of the premises (including faux fireplace, big signage and bold colours) sparked minds to engage at Saturday’s event … not that chatting and conversations are normally allowed in a whispering place.
And while this is very much a new beginning for the Sooke Library, VIRL, and the Sooke community, there was a sense of conclusion and finality entwined. It was a day long in coming. Not everyone followed the path of the journey. Many have moved on.
Many of the players who produced the day’s success have already retired (like Rosemary Bonanno and Kerrie Reay) or who will soon (like Mike Hicks).
And while there are many contentious issues in Sooke local politics, this one wraps up a lot of threads, while having also — by default — opened up other opportunities for community growth (such as now having the land for a town square and a seniors/youth center … both long talked about, and still envisioned on a plot of land behind the library that is presently flourishing with a forest of large broom).
The current Sooke Council rep to the VIRL Board is Councillor Jeff Bateman (in the VIRL role since 2019), who says he is running again in the fall 2022 municipal election.
Unique in the Greater Victoria area:
The Sooke Library stands alone as a VIRL branch within the west shore of the Greater Victoria area. Libraries serving Langford, Colwood and View Royal are part of the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) system.
Beyond the core region of Victoria/Oak Bay/Saanich, there is a VIRL library on the peninsula (in Sidney). Beyond Sooke on the west side of the island there is a branch in Tofino. There are several VIRL branches in the Cowichan, Duncan and Nanaimo region on the east side of Vancouver Island.
Library as a community hub:
Libraries as a community hub bring people together in a safe inclusive space, and offer reliable curated information both in the stacks and online.
“The job of librarians is challenging and continually changing,” said Mayor Tait yesterday.
The role of librarians as community nurturers was evident during the pandemic (which in fact was a key thread of BCGEU librarians seeking a pay-raise after the pandemic, as librarians took on a load of computer-support interaction with library clients who needed help navigating government websites).
VIRL branches far and wide:
The VIRL head office and main library branch is in Nanaimo. In total there are 39 VIRL branches, as well as their Books by Mail which they administer as a branch.
VIRL Board of Trustees:
The VIRL Board of Trustees is comprised of 38 representatives who are elected officials from the communities where branches are located, or former “every corner of our service area” as Carson put it yesterday.
“They are quite a group,” said Carson, with reference to how far and wide the region is they represent.
Most people probably don’t know who their municipal rep is to the VIRL board, though according to Chair Wickstrom yesterday, apparently many contacted VIRL with their thoughts during the recent BCGEU librarians strike this past spring.
Also attending the Sooke opening were VIRL board members from a wide range of Vancouver Island communities (most of them recently appointed to their role with VIRL), including: Penny Cote (Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, since 2019); Jesse Embree (Village of Queen Charlotte, since 2019); Colleen Evans (Campbell River, since 2020); Bruce Lloyd (Village of Port Alice, since 2019); Brenda Patrick (Village of Gold River, since 2019); and Regina Williams (Village of Massett, since 2022).
Carson thanked a long list of VIRL staff who have contributed to the success of the new branch development and opening. People in the room seemed highly impressed by the breadth and depth of VIRL staff operations.
Visiting the Sooke Library:
The new Sooke Library is at 6671 Wadams Way. Masks are no longer required when visiting the library, but you can wear one if you’d like. There is parking behind the building.
The branch is open daily, with regular hours: 10 am to 9 pm Monday to Thursday, and 10 am to 5 pm Friday to Sunday.
- Library Manager – Lorelee Parker
- Children & Youth Services Librarian – Nathalie Jones
- Adult Services Librarian – April Ripley
Sooke Library official grand opening coming up June 11 (June 6, 2022)
Sooke Library official grand opening coming up mid-June (May 9, 2022)
Why does Sooke have a round library? (March 28, 2022)
VIRL postpones Sooke Library grand opening due to librarian strike (March 13, 2022)
New Sooke Library set to open after Family Day 2022 (February 10, 2022)
Sooke Library construction gets underway mid-October (Oct 19, 2020)
Survey about new Sooke Library open to Nov 30 (Oct 8, 2020)
New day for Sooke: library construction to begin (Sept 22, 2020)
Sooke Library programs in January 2020 (Jan 1, 2020)
Sooke Library development dealing with permit hurdle (June 15, 2019)
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been following the development of the Sooke Library since 2008. She attended many community open houses hosted by the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) over the years, many of the discussions at Sooke Council, as well as the on-site construction tour in June 2021 ahead of the June 11, 2022 official grand opening.
Island Social Trends previously covered news of the region since 2008 as West Shore Voice News (2014-2020), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013) and MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010).