The development plan for a proposed Willoughby building showing a possible library site. (Pollyco/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

The development plan for a proposed Willoughby building showing a possible library site. (Pollyco/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Scope of proposed Willoughby library debated by Township council

Councillors had questions for the CEO of the FVRL

A potential library site in Willoughby could be a great new library for Langley Township, the CEO of the Fraser Valley Regional Library told the council Monday.

Scott Hargrove talked about overall library services during the pandemic, but also fielded questions about discussions over a proposed library site.

In December, developer Pollyco asked the Township to approve two floors of commercial space in a six-storey building in the 7900 block of 206A Street – the second floor of which could house the library.

That proposal has set off some discussions among Township council, and Hargrove, along with FVRL director of finance Nancy Gomerich, were on hand to answer questions on Feb. 8.

READ MORE: Library possible in new Willoughby development

There is no library in Willoughby, which has more than 35,000 residents, making it both the largest and the fastest growing neighbourhood in the Township.

Hargrove noted that Walnut Grove Library to the north of Willoughby, and Muriel Arnason Library to the south, are the busiest and second-busiest libraries in the Township, and Walnut Grove is one of the busiest by size of any in the FVRL.

In general, Hargrove said that putting a library on the second floor of a building is not preferred. In this case, the library will be fronted by an elevated parking lot and will also have access from the building’s first floor lobby.

He also emphasized that placing a library in a high-traffic, higher density area will result in more people using it. Putting libraries on bus routes, and with access to bike lanes, helps ensure more users.

“It comes down to making it easy for people to get to the library,” Hargrove said. “If they can get to the library, they will use it.”

The annual operating cost of a new library in the site would be about $1 million, Gomerich said, but she warned that at this early stage of planning, that’s a “soft number.”

The decision of whether or not to add a new library is ultimately up to the municipalities that are members of the FVRL, Hargrove noted. They are responsible for building or leasing the space.

But the FVRL’s staff have already been working with Township staff on what a library could look like in the planned building.

“The more we worked with it, the more we liked it,” Hargrove said.

It’s an interesting site that could host an exceptional set of services, including the many storytime and youth and seniors programs the FVRL runs, he said.

“It’s a very workable design,” Hargrove said.

He noted that if a Willoughby site has to be bigger or smaller, “bigger might be better” given growth projections, but a library is built more for the programs local government envisions than strictly for population.

Hargrove saw questions from council about various configurations of libraries and branches.

Councillor Eric Woodward, who noted he does not use libraries, asked about whether libraries were seeing a decline in use as more information was available online.

“We’re not seeing a decline,” said Hargrove. “Quite the contrary.”

He had earlier noted that circulation of books and other items, even during COVID-19 pandemic, was still holding steady about 90 to 95 per cent of pre-COVID levels. That was about 10,000 items per day.

Libraries also take part in helping people find resources for education, good information, as well as community building.

Hargrove also noted that programs that don’t attract an audience are discontinued; in general before the pandemic, the FVRL was seeing five to 10 per cent annual growth in program attendance before the pandemic.

Coun. Kim Richter questioned whether the Township, which pays more per capital than Abbotsford, could change its system to one more like it’s eastern neighbour, with fewer libraries.

That would be up to the Township, Gomerich said.

Gomerich and Hargrove noted that there are social and philosophical reasons for the Township’s system, which has a large number of smallish libraries, so that each community including Fort Langley, Aldergrove, Murrayville, and Brookswood have their own small branch libraries. Communities like Abbotsford or Maple Ridge made the decision long ago to have fewer libraries.

The discussion touched on major libraries, from Vancouver Public Library’s main branch to new branches in Calgary, and Mayor Jack Froese mentioned touring a six-storey library in Taiwan in the past.

“I wish we had the type of money to put something like that together,” Froese said.

While there was no discussion of building such a massive library, council did discuss and ask about the idea of a “destination library” or major central library, one that serves not just the surrounding community but which has special programs or collections.

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