Vancouver Public Library Discusses Urban Green Space and eBooks

vancouver public library green space

The Vancouver Public Library is the largest library in British Columbia and it is poised to do something very innovative. In 2015, the library will gain control over the top two floors and convert them into a huge urban green space. There will be food vendors and people will able to quietly read 9 stories above the city in a tranquil environment. No library has done this before and it will set a great precedent in urban planning.

The Urban Green Space is going to be built in 2015, when the current BC Provincial Government lease expires on the top two floors. This will give the library the entire building and will allow for two floors to be devoted towards gardens and boutique bistros. The intention is to give people a quiet place to relax and enjoy reading an e-reader or book in the sun. There will be almost 40,000 square feet of room, all designed by Cornelia Oberlander. It will be open to the public, giving anyone who’s interested a chance to see a spectacular city view, and Vancouver sure is pretty in the summer.

We sat down with the Sandra Singh, Chief Librarian and Christina Castell, Director of Technology today. We bantered about the new green space and the rise of digital ebooks and how a large Canadian library copes with lending to a large population.

The Vancouver Public Library has a yearly budget of around $200,000 for ebooks to be loaned out. Most of the content comes from Overdrive, which handles the distribution and most titles. TAdditional funds are used for ejournals and other digital music/videos. Overall, digital accounts for 20% of the entire annual budget and should be growing in the next five years. One of the more interesting aspects of the library is how it deals with buying new ebooks. Christina said “With titles from Hachette and other publishers, we look at the digital hold list and see how many people are wanting to get a hold of the ebook. For every six holds, we generally buy another version of the title, its most cost effective and we are able to meet the demand.”

With the rise of digital, in a major library, you would figure that there would be a decrease in the number of people visiting. This is not the case, the library is actually seeing a fairly stable population of kids, students, and older folk. One of the most popular programs is geared towards digital literacy. Sandra said “We make big decisions everyday when we read newspapers, blogs, and television. Most of the content is geared towards corporate interests or has obvious bias. It is critically important that people learn how to dissect media and understand what to share online and what not to share.” I think it’s excellent that the library does its best to help people understand online digital media and teach people how to look critically at the media they consume. It also runs a ton of young student and early childhood educational sessions, to give them a chance to discover real books.

How exactly are libraries changing with the growth of digital? Sandra mentioned that we are seeing some profound movements in the last few years. “Libraries in the past had people doing research for their homework or hold lectures. Today, we are noticing an increase in people working in groups and collaborate in a tech rich environment. We also are seeing lots of bedroom businesses get more social by working in the library.”

We have all heard about how American Libraries work, from attending events like ALA, but Canadian libraries work in a very different way. In British Columbia, there is a program called “Shared Collections.” It allowed all of the libraries to buy titles from a shared list and those ebooks are available to be delivered to ANY library in BC. This method used to be the preferred way libraries could buy digital content, until Overdrive changed their terms. Overdrive licensing and terms mandate for large libraries, that books can only be loaned out in the libraries specific district, so the shared version is now limited to BC’s smaller libraries.

Christina provided some insight on her library and most others in Canada are handling big six content. We all hear about Simon & Schuster and Penguin running pilot programs in the US, but we rarely see those titles actually come to Canada. A task force was established in 2011 that talks to publishers and the government about getting more content into Canada. They are hoping to attain more front-list titles becoming available and abide by a new checkout limit of 40 loans, before they need to buy the book again. They seem to have all of this sorted out and the library system is taking bids to augment an existing ILS system, so publishers will have an easier time offering titles for sale. This eventually will provide libraries all over Canada with the ability to tap into the same online bookstore to buy titles for their locations. Publishers are setting the terms of the sale, so its a win/win for almost everybody involved. The system is set to launch within the next twelve months, but likely will take longer for the logistics to be all planned out. Still, not having to forge an alliance with Overdrive, 3M, or other companies is a pleasant alternative.

In the end, Canadian libraries play an important role in the future, despite the growth of digital. Sandra sagely said, “Things will really change in the next decade, some of what we’ll do is still buy books on behalf of the community. Libraries will move towards information facilitation faster and give people a place of understanding. We want to build on establishing a reader culture, allow people to be more tolerant, understanding, and empathetic. Reading instills these sorts of values in people, we’re not a school, or a University, but here is where learning happens.”

Michael Kozlowski (5220 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to