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All the Lonely People: How Vancouver Public Library Connects Community

by Mairin Kerr

On a cloudy afternoon in November, a group of middle-aged men sit around a table by the window. The way they tease each other as they work it is clear that they are comfortable with one another and their environment. As the afternoon wears on, their knitting needles click and their scarves, hats and socks grow and take shape.

Dreams do come true

When the Vancouver Public Library first envisioned the expansion of the Central Library this kind of informal community gathering was exactly what was hoped for. It’s a moment 23-years in the making. When the Central Library opened in 1995, the upper two floors were rented to the provincial government for 20 years. When the lease expired the library began the work of transforming these areas into vibrant community spaces.


Vancouver Public Library Central expansion.
Photo by Phillip Crocker.

The expansion has 42,000 square feet of new indoor flexible spaces for Vancouverites to connect, collaborate and create. It includes meeting rooms, a glass enclosed reading room, an 80-person theatre, exhibition space with changing displays, and the most requested and highly anticipated addition – a rooftop garden.


Aerial view of the new rooftop garden at the Vancouver Public Library.

Fighting loneliness

It’s no secret that Vancouver has a reputation for being unfriendly. Vancouverites are increasingly living in higher density, smaller spaces. A 2017 Vancouver Foundation survey found that approximately half of those living in apartments or condos don’t have a yard or common area to socialize with neighbours. The report recommended community gardens and pocket parks as a way to create a stronger sense of belonging. The library’s Phillips, Hager and North rooftop garden provides this communal space among the high-rises of this city.

Connecting with community

The library’s programming staff work hard to animate the new spaces and connect patrons to each other. Diwali at the Library featured a dance performance that ended with audience participation.


Niki Patel teaches the audience some dance moves at Diwali at the Library.

The inaugural Vancouver Podcast Festival hosted all of their free programming in the new Montalbano Family Theatre, bringing together podcast producers, hosts, fans and hopefuls. Harry Potter enthusiasts gathered for a Weasly Winter Celebration in the BMO Community Room.

Connecting with each other


An artist sketches in the Phillips, Hager and North garden at the
Vancouver Public Library. Photo by Kai Jacobson.

What’s been inspiring is seeing the way Vancouverites have taken ownership of the space in the few short months since it opened at the end of September. A quick scan of the Central Library’s geotag on Instagram shows photographers capturing the unique angles of the architecture, dancers showing off their skills, artists taking inspiration from the stunning views of the city, creators using it as a backdrop, fashionistas showing off their outfit of the day, toddlers exploring and students studying.

Becoming a pattern

As the group of knitters chat happily they are interrupted by a member of the staff. Expecting to be shushed they quiet down, but instead the staff member asks if she can take their photo and share it on social media so that more people can see that this is a space for them. They gladly oblige.
Follow @vancouverpubliclibrary on Instagram for more stories like this.

Copyright 2019 by Mairin Kerr.
About the Author:
Mairin Kerr is the Content Marketing Lead at the Vancouver Public Library in Canada. She has a Masters of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto and work experience in galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) in three countries. She believes in the power of social media to connect with community and highlight the myriad of stories not just on the shelves of the library, but among the patrons who use the spaces and services.