By Robert Hawkes

In less than a year James Bay will have its own branch library, a community goal for decades. In 1994 the report from the Victoria Accord included a library in James Bay as part of the redevelopment vision at the time. A series of Victoria Accord public meetings in 1993 had established a library as a community priority.

The new James Bay branch library (a formal name has not yet been announced) will offer residents services similar to those provided by the existing 11 locations of the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL). Users will be able to access books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. It will also be possible to search the unified catalog, place a hold, and have the item delivered for pickup at the local branch (and return it there as well). All existing GVPL branch libraries offer WiFi, computer stations and printing facilities.

Artist's concept for the future James Bay library at the corner of Menzies and Superior Streets. Image provided courtesy of the City of Victoria.

The James Bay library will be located at the corner of Superior and Menzies Streets, and will be completed during the first phase of the Capital Park project. With extensive glass and high ceilings, abundant natural light will create an open and welcoming feel. The nearby courtyard public spaces in the Capital Park project will enhance the experience. The location is ideal for walking, biking or taking the bus to the James Bay library.

I talked with Jennifer Windecker, Director of Public Services GVPL, to learn more about plans for the James Bay library. She confirmed the size of the branch as 7500 square feet (about 700 square metres). While a precise opening date is not yet known, it will be open early in 2018 she confirmed.

She stressed the importance of the views expressed by James Bay residents in the 2015 library survey that set the direction for the new facility. As she summarized, respondents argued for a welcoming and flexible community library, balanced with traditional and innovative library features.

In preparing this article, I went through the detailed survey results published by the GVPL. Completion of the survey was encouraged by the GVPL, the JBNA and other community organizations. The survey, conducted late in 2015, received 1207 responses, mainly, but not exclusively, from existing James Bay residents. All age groups were well represented in the survey response. While many potential features were supported, the most popular request was for a "bright modern facility with a quiet comfortable area for reading."

A modern library is more than what it holds, and nearly 60% of respondents requested children's programs at the branch, and almost as many saw a need for adult programs. Technology features at the branch were also strongly supported. There was enthusiastic support for meeting room space. The report summarized, "The survey comments reflected the high importance that this community places on communal gathering spaces and walkability."

A few respondents did not favour a James Bay branch library, primarily because they felt needs were met by the Central branch and the James Bay Community Project library. But that was definitely a minority view, with most strongly supporting the proposed library, and preferring a full branch size library over a smaller facility. As one survey respondent summarized, "Great idea to have a branch in a very vibrant active Communityā€¯ while another commented on the health benefits of a space which encouraged "... seniors to mix and meet others in their community."

The JBNA have been active in promotion of a community library for James Bay for many years. Marg Gardiner, the President of the JBNA, explained that the JBNA carried out a community survey in late 2013 with a multi-use space and a library the leading identified needs. She is delighted that the library will become a reality: "The library branch, providing a community gathering place, will bring to fruition a 20-year commitment to the community, a commitment made with the Victoria Accord." She went on to say, "A library will provide a public space, where each of us may enter, and benefit from the facility. The full completion of the project, with outdoor public space in 2019, will be a milestone for the community."

Jennifer Windecker summarized on behalf of the GVPL the plans for the forthcoming James Bay library: "... will be a vibrant hub meeting the needs of all community members... a place to connect and discover, to imagine and explore."  How can any of us not be excited about that?