Low-tech library services are a community lifeline

In Burns Lake, you can phone the library to arrange for materials delivery. The library phone has been busy since 2020 as a lifeline for seniors and isolated people during the pandemic.

Library Director Monika Willner says, “Library staff wear many hats in helping people in the community, sometimes a human connection, counselor and social worker.”

Willner got the position of Library Director of Burns Lake Public Library (BLPL) in 2018 as aggressive wildfires hit the area of around 6000 people. The fires displaced many and the library was the only place with public Wi-Fi and where people could go to check on family and neighbours.

Burns Lake is in the North-Central Interior of British Columbia on Hwy 16. It has a rich Indigenous heritage and has almost equal population of Indigenous and European descent. The library also serves the village and six First Nation communities of Lake Babine Nation, Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band), Cheslatta Carrier Nation, Skin Tyee Nation and Nee-Tahi-Buhn.

Unique programs in welcoming spaces

Clive, the therapy dog, is at the library once a week where children read to him. Willner says the kids “started shy and a year later, they were reading with more confidence.” Clive’s handler noticed how their reading improved too.

The summer reading club and Family Literacy Week are large events. This year, the Library partnered with Lakes Literacy to rent the local arena for free family skating and a Manga scavenger hunt to mark the importance of Family literacy. They offered a full day of family-oriented activities in the library, as well as a StoryWalk® featuring Sam Sorts by Marthe Jocelyn.

Like other public libraries, BLPL have Manga and Dungeons and Dragons programs welcoming young people to newly renovated space for teens. As a place to enjoy, not to sit silently, teens play with the gaming console, three computers and other teen activities. In Burns Lake this is the only community place for teens to go after school.

BLPL has also renovated the children’s area creating an enchanted forest environment for their youngest patrons to explore the world of reading. The community was involved in naming the two main characters, a big tree called Grandfather Oak and a dragon called Bookie McMaster.

An ‘Everyday Experts’ program for adults brings community talents in gardening, photography and other topics to a popular program. These sessions helped move people out of the loneliness of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Digital literacy is a significant programming need in a community that is only 50% Wi-Fi connected. Half of the Lakes District residents have no connection or poor-quality connection.

Low connectivity means that the digital collections at BLPL can’t be accessed by everyone. The physical collection is essential.

Community hub – something for everyone

Like other public libraries, BLPL help with newcomers’ paperwork and filing taxes. In coordination with Lake Animal Friendship Society, the library also hosts a free veterinarian clinic for modest income families. There are weekly class visits where children participate in story time and activities and teens use the online resources. The library is known as a community hub where there is something for everyone.

Libraries everywhere are filled with the buzz of conversation and laughter. Gone are the ages of “shushing.”

BLPL’s COVID-19 story is different from other communities. Health regulations were a challenge for every organization and as a small organization, BLPL was able to turn around the day after public places were told to close. Curbside service of requested materials was labeled and packed in paper bags where patrons were able to pick up their items at the door. The paper-bag packages are still a service offered through the Words on Wheels (WOW) bus—a book mobile stocked with food-bank items and crafts for children—that also delivers materials requested from the library. In 2021 staff packed upwards of 180 paper bag deliveries with children’s activities each week during summer.

Willner and staff are dedicated to making the Burns Lake Public Library a place of connection, learning and growth.

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