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North Shore libraries given provincial award for pandemic-era tech initiative

Cellphones and tablets for those who depend on accessing the library were handed out following COVID closures
Library tech programs
Four hundred tablets and cellphones on display in front of West Vancouver Memorial Library before being shipped off to people in need on the North Shore in April 2020.
All three North Shore libraries have been recognized by their industry peers across the province for their take-home tech program, an initiative that sought to ensure community members who traditionally depended on their local library to access a computer could still find a way to get online during the pandemic.

The British Columbia Library Association presented North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver District Public Library and West Vancouver Memorial Library with the Building Better Communities Award during the association’s annual general meeting on June 23.

The take-home tech initiative saw North Shore libraries work with local social service agencies and non-profits to get internet-enabled devices, such as tablets and cellphones, into the hands of people who most needed it.

Prior to the start of the pandemic last year, around 500 people across the North Shore used the libraries’ public computers on a near daily basis, according to a joint news release.

When libraries closed due to COVID-19 concerns in March 2020, however, hundreds of people – many who are older adults, seniors or lower income – were immediately cut off from a computer that they used to access important government services and maintain social connection.

“A lot of people don’t have internet at home, or might not have computers at home for various reasons,” Pat Cumming, head of the West Vancouver library’s customer and community experience department, told the North Shore News at the time.

Library staff approached Telus with a proposal asking if they’d donate phones and tablet devices to be distributed to those in need in the community who under normal circumstances would be coming into the library to get online.

Telus donated upwards of 400 devices that were then delivered to vulnerable residents last spring.

The local non-profit agencies that received the devices for distribution to their members included ones that focused their services for recent immigrants, at-risk youth, families who might be experiencing financial hardships, mental health organizations, and seniors and older adults, said Cumming.

Although libraries have since reopened to the public, the individuals who received the donated tech will get to keep the devices in perpetuity, according to North Vancouver City Library spokeswoman Abigail Saxton.

The provincial library association’s Building Better Communities Award is given annually to recognize individuals or organizations in the province working to increase the relevancy and impact of library service through partnership, collaboration and building trust, according to the release.