ORL celebrating 75 years of service and looking to the future

In March 1936, the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia signed a proclamation that created what was then-known as the Okanagan Union Library District. 75 years later, the Okanagan Regional Library (ORL) is commemorating its continued service to communities in the BC Southern Interior with system-wide special events, as well as creating plans for future programs and initiatives.

“2011 will be a special year at the ORL as we celebrate our history and move forward with a strategic plan to keep library services relevant to our customers,” says Lesley Dieno, who has been the Executive Director of the ORL for the past 25 years. “It’s mind-boggling to think of how the ORL has changed in the past several decades.”

When it began, the ORL was comprised of a collection of less than 18,000 materials serving a resident base of approximately 25,000. Compare that with 2010 numbers, which include 29 branches spanning almost 60,000 square kilometres of geography serving a population base of over 360,000 people. The ORL’s staff numbers 240 managing a collection of over 750,000 physical resources plus web and digital resources, computer terminals and wireless Internet, and a website that got over 1.36 million hits last year.

“The Internet has vastly changed the way we deliver services, and that’s why we are doing a strategic plan to make informed decisions about where the ORL goes in future,” explains Dieno.

Research for the strategic plan included a random telephone survey of 1,000 residents within the ORL’s region, which spans from Golden south to Osoyoos.  Responses indicate that 74% of residents use the ORL, with 45% of households reporting they have two or more library cards and 35% saying they visit their local branch once a week. Among those that don’t use the ORL, 78% say they don’t simply because it just never occurs to them.

While a vast majority of respondents rated the role of the ORL as “very important” in the community, less than half were aware of all the services the ORL has to offer such as free online databases, access to online newspapers and magazines, and Audiobooks and eBooks available for free download.

The research study also distinguished between three specific types of library users: “Traditionalists” accounted for 52% of customers who use the ORL to get their books and resources with little interest in other programs; 24% were identified as “Library Enthusiasts” who see the library as a social place to meet people, study and learn; and “Family Focus” users accounted for 24% who access children’s programming and materials.

“We are funded primarily through property taxes, so all of this information will help guide us in making the wisest investments in the coming years,” Dieno says.

Dieno adds that she hopes the 75th Anniversary will be an opportunity to showcase all that the ORL has to offer. A special blog has been created highlighting 75 Years of Stories at the ORL that can be read at http://75-Years-ORL.blogspot.com and a system-wide open house happening simultaneously at all 29 branches is planned for March. Other contests, special events and information will occur throughout the year; check www.orl.bc.ca for ongoing details.