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City’s smallest library makes a big impact

August 11 2016

Carnegie Branch Library visitors

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The same can be said about the Carnegie Branch of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) in the Downtown Eastside.

Small library, big impact

The Carnegie Branch is the smallest of all Vancouver public libraries with 1,930 square feet of space. Its small, dedicated team see on average 1,100 people per day.

The team offers a variety of unique programs and services to its diverse patrons, such as the VPL Access Card that provides Vancouverites with no fixed address or identification access to:

  • VPL's physical and digital collections of books, magazines, newspapers, and DVDs
  • Poetry night and author readings at Carnegie

“Every morning, there is a line of people in the Carnegie foyer waiting for the library to open. Those patrons represent a large number of DTES residents who rely on the services of the library to respond to their need for news of the world, access to literature, information, computer access, and educational opportunities,” says Ethel Whitty, director of the Carnegie Centre. “The respect and enthusiasm with which library staff respond to those needs adds an element of dignity to the lives of Carnegie patrons. The high volume of use reminds us that the needs of this community for information and educational services are no different than in any other.”

“The library patrons at Carnegie library challenge the stereotypes about the Downtown Eastside,” says Natalie Porter, branch head of the Carnegie Library. “While many struggle with poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and the residual effect of residential schooling, they are also passionate readers, knowledgeable in a variety of topics, tech savvy, creative writers, and storytellers.”

Third busiest library branch in the city with growing circulation

In 2015, Carnegie library had the third highest volume of foot traffic of all 20 library branches in Vancouver, with 412,836 patrons going through its doors. During the winter months, average foot traffic per day peaks at about 1,500 patrons.

Compared to other branches, the Carnegie library gets a high volume of reference questions from inquiring minds with staff answering about 6,000 questions in any given month. The library is the only VPL branch open 365 days a year.

The branch also sees a high volume of patrons using the three available computers with Internet usage at about 950 hours per month. Those with mobile devices can also take advantage of free Wi-Fi throughout the Carnegie Community Centre.

The above stats are based on trackers that the library has on its computers and entry gate.

While many libraries in North America are seeing a slight decrease in circulation of physical books and materials as some patrons shift to use their library’s digital collections, Carnegie library defies this trend with circulation up 4.5% in 2015, and each month in 2016 has seen increases compared to the previous year.

Top materials, programs, and services

The library includes a variety of materials that patrons can check out, covering all genres, including a large Chinese and Aboriginal collection. The most popular format is DVDs, with more than 115,000 circulated in 2015. Other popular genres and subjects include westerns, science-fiction, true crime, self-help, history, and arts and crafts.

Other popular programs and services at the Reading Room include:

  • Downtown Eastside Seed Library: free seeds (supplied by the Hastings Urban Farm & Hives for Humanity) for flowers, vegetables, and herbs
  • Hastings Street Book Giveaway: Every Friday afternoon, the library sets up a table on Hastings Street and gives away books donated to the branch
  • Downtown Eastside Digital Literacy project: Funded by a grant from the “Friends of the VPL,” and in collaboration with the DTES Literacy Roundtable, the program supports computer literacy by offering a “Tech Café” at Oppenheimer Park to field computer-related questions, and workshops for library patrons
  • Author readings: Offered throughout the year, this program includes a feature from VPL’s Aboriginal Storyteller in Residence, and in collaboration with the “Heart of the City” festival in October

Reading room, living room

The Carnegie Branch is connected to a network of community services and agencies in the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, and Chinatown. Carnegie Community Centre – often referred to as the living room of the Downtown Eastside – provides social, educational, cultural, and recreational activities on-site, at nearby Oppenheimer Park and through an outreach team.

The Carnegie library originally opened in 1903 and served as the City’s main central library until 1957 when the Burrard Street Central library opened. In 1980, the library reopened as the Reading Room alongside the Carnegie Community Centre.