The Sayward library branch was located in a leased space inside this strip mall but was closed at the end of May due to air quality control issues. Google Maps photo

Sayward residents growing frustrated over lengthy library closure

The Sayward library branch was closed May 31 due to air quality concerns

Frustration is growing among Sayward residents who have been without a library since May.

Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) shuttered the site it had been leasing in a strip mall on Kelsey Way on May 31 due to health concerns.

According to VIRL, an air quality assessment was done in June which indicated air quality concerns. VIRL worked with the landlord to address the issues but a second assessment conducted in July revealed similar results. Due to health and safety concerns and WorkSafeBC regulations, the decision was made to keep the library closed. VIRL has said that to bring the building up to code would be a “sizeable investment” and Sayward’s branch has already been identified as a high priority for replacement or refurbishment.

But Sayward resident Jan Bakker said having no library has left a gap in the community.

“The closure of the library is not a minor thing in our community,” Bakker said. “Yes, we borrow books, but we also socialize there and meet friends that we otherwise might not see. We use the Internet there, so many services must be applied for online and so many of our retired fixed income people do not have a computer or can afford Internet access at home.”

John France, CAO of the Village of Sayward, confirmed in a July letter to VIRL’s executive director, Rosemary Bonanno, that the community is getting anxious to see library services resurrected.

“Our community is very concerned about the temporary stoppage of library services and hopes that the transition to a temporary location can happen quickly,” France wrote. “We are receiving many public enquiries on library services.”

VIRL has since announced it is working on opening a temporary library site within the Village of Sayward’s council chambers that will include free WiFI, public computers, work stations, a location to pick up requested materials and a selection of materials available for loan but that transition is expected to take about a month.

In the meantime, Bonanno said VIRL is working on a permanent solution. It’s currently looking at building a 1,500 to 1,800 sq. ft. prefabricated building for a new library on land owned by the Village of Sayward, and leased to VIRL, at the corner of H’Kusam Way and MacMillan Drive.

“We recognize that the library is vital to the community,” Bonanno said in a release. “Since the closure, we have been working closely with village council to arrive at a solution as quickly as we can. From the moment the branch closed, restoring library services to the village has been a priority for VIRL staff and the board of trustees.”

The new location, once operational, is expected to include a parking lot, accessible entrances and landscaping. VIRL is also looking at service improvement options such as a larger collection of materials, more IT infrastructure, seating areas and programming space.

Acccording to VIRL, a timeline and budget for the permanent branch are still to be determined but in the meantime, VIRL will conduct a land survey and undertake the geotechnical, environmental and other work required to prepare the site.

While the site at the corner of H’Kusam Way and MacMillan Drive is VIRL’s preferred location, a final decision on where to locate the library rests with VIRL’s board of trustees.

Until the temporary site is up and running in village council chambers, VIRL is offering a WiFi hot spot outside the now closed library as well as a Books-by-Mail service to all Sayward library card holders.

For more information on the Books-by-Mail service, contact VIRL at 1-877-415-VIRL (8475) or email info@virl.bc.ca.