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West Vancouver library launches dial-a-story program to combat isolation

Hearing a powerful story from a Squamish Nation Elder or local volunteer is just a phone call away
West Vancouver Memorial Library
West Vancouver Memorial Library is launching a new series of dial-a-story programs starting this June.
West Vancouver Memorial Library is now giving patrons the option to pick up the phone to hear an amazing story.

With the library’s new dial-a-story program set to launch next week, volunteer reader Judith Harrington says she’s excited to read stories aloud over the phone to adults and seniors in the community who could benefit from hearing a thrilling tale from a friendly voice.

“A lot of people are alone and spend a lot of time alone, and just to be able to pick up the phone and have an hour of other people joining in – I think it will be a real asset,” says Harrington, a West Vancouver resident and lifelong reader who spent the latter part of her career organizing reading groups with seniors and older adults on the North Shore.

Harrington ran a book group with seven members – the oldest being 99 years old – out of a local care home, but it was disbanded at the start of the pandemic last year.

“I miss that part of sharing and reading stories with older adults,” she reflects, adding that seniors who love to read but may have trouble making out a story line by line will benefit from getting to enjoy hearing someone else read a chapter from a classic tome or contemporary favourite.

The phone-in story program is being launched to further address the needs of isolated adults on the North Shore, according to Lynn Brockington, the library’s community experience co-ordinator.

Like other public libraries, when the pandemic struck last year all West Van library programs moved online.

While the jump to virtual has been successful, it’s left some in the dark who don’t have easy access to the internet, according to Brockington.

“We started to hear over the last year that some people couldn’t join because of that,” she says. “We’ve heard from the care homes and seniors residences that there would be a lot of interest. There are definitely people who have been terribly isolated.”

The program is simple. Someone wanting to hear a good story that’s just a phone call away can register for one of the one-hour sessions and they’ll receive a call during the time slot of the event asking them to tune into the reading.

“It’s very low barrier,” notes Brockington.

Local volunteers such as Harrington will be doing the over-the-phone readings. They’ll choose from a wide variety of short stories or standalone chapters during the one-hour sessions – from Kipling and Chekhov, to Vinyl Café stories and Giller Prize-winning novels.

“I think it’s wonderful that you don’t have to have technology to be part of this program,” says Harrington.

In line with National Indigenous History Month this June, the library is also launching a special edition series of dial-a-story events geared around Indigenous storytelling.

Once a week throughout the month, people can phone in to hear traditional stories told by a different Squamish Nation Elder.

“Storytelling is the history of our people from long, long ago,” stated Elder Bob Baker, Kiyo-wil, in a news release. “We lived it and learned from our grandparents and great-grandparents, the history of our lands and ancestors. What we tell is not known by everybody, some of it might hurt, the truth has to be told.”

For non-Nation members, those who dial-in to the the Indigenous Storytelling program will have a great opportunity to learn more about Squamish Nation, according to Lucie Neliba, team leader for the Squamish Nation Elder's Centre.

"They'll get a chance to really hear about the culture, hear about the past," says Neliba. "It might not be the prettiest story, but it will be something that they can take away of the community and how it functions."

The Dial-a-Story: Indigenous Storytelling by Squamish Elders program runs Wednesdays in June from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The Dial-a-Story: A Phone-In Program for Adults is slated to run Thursdays from June through December from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Patrons can register for either program by calling 604-925-7403 or by having a friend or family member sign them up online.