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Re-imagining libraries in Vancouver

Vancouver Trending: Books, seeds, tools, even humans are able to be borrowed from a variety of libraries in the Lower Mainland.

Libraries, not just for books anymore.

Amy Logan/Metro

Libraries, not just for books anymore.

Vancouver is home to a rich variety of unique library experiences, catering to just about any field of interest, where people can borrow not only books, but also seeds, tools, and even human beings.

As local librarian Joni Sherman noted, "Vancouver is a very complex city, the most liveable/non-liveable city in Canada." It is beautiful but unaffordable. This makes libraries "vital services," particularly for marginalized groups since they are "warm, safe, inviting places," she said.

Libraries promote inclusion and provide resources and information for the city's diverse communities.


Vancouver has played host to a number of living or human libraries where patrons can take out a person much like they would a library book. For the Human Library Project, part of the PuSh Festival, readers listened to and engaged with real-life stories. Some of the fascinating human book titles from the 2017 festival included Coke Whore, First Breath after Coma, and The Taxidermist's Son.

Vancouver Pride Society is looking to create a "Living Library" of people interested in sharing stories of being part of the LGBTQ2+ community in Vancouver for the Pride 2017 season.

At UBC, Xwi7xwa is an Indigenous library with more than 10,000 items focussed on First Nations in B.C., collecting materials written from First Nations perspectives. VPL has an Aboriginal Storyteller in Residence, filmmaker, media artist and writer Jules Koostachin, who shares her life and culture through storytelling.

Other unique library ventures include Death Cafes, hosted at libraries such as the South Hill Branch. These are gatherings where people join together to share conversations about death as a natural part of life. At the Lowercase Reading Room readers enter a tiny space, once a storage closet, filled with handmade zines and booklets to peruse.

One of the newest libraries on the scene is the independent, volunteer-run Vancouver Women's Library, which carries books exclusively by women. Bec Wonders and em laurent explained that the library is "inspired by the legacy of women-run bookstores, presses and libraries." They "are in awe of sister libraries" throughout the world which have "emerged out of the same desire for keeping women's spaces alive."

Wonders and laurent pointed out that "Vancouver is filled with amazing women, and we want to provide them with a space that facilitates communication, and is free from patriarchal and capitalist control." They admit they are "not the first to have this vision and are following in the footsteps of our foremothers." They see the Vancouver Women's Library as an action against " the historical erasure of women's spaces," and in particular, the decline in women's bookstores and libraries."

The library is always looking for donations of books by women, particularly multi-lingual volumes. Inclusivity is very important to them, and they especially encourage mothers or caretakers to bring in their children.

Libraries provide a space for connection and for exploring new forms of knowledge. As Wonders and laurent put it, "Books can be revolutionary, language can remake the world, and writing and reading profoundly matters."

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