This Tuesday marks 20 years since Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch on Robson and Hamilton streets opened its doors to the public.

"[It's] really a testament to the city's interest in investing in its residents and lifelong learning," said Sandra Singh, chief librarian at the Vancouver Public Library.

Prior to 1995, the city's main library was located on Robson and Burrard streets. That location is now the home of lingerie store Victoria's Secret.

"With the growth that was projected for Vancouver, there was no way [the old location] could continue to serve as the central library," said Singh.

Ancient traditions

Sandra Singh

Chief Librarian Sandra Singh says she still gets chills seeing people lined up waiting for the library to open. (CBC)

Singh says the new site was intentionally chosen to spur economic development in the east end of downtown.

Before construction the city held a public design contest and invited international architects to submit their ideas.

The winning submssion was not received well within the architecture community, but Singh says the public overwhelmingly endorsed it.

"From a librarian perspective, we like boxes because it is easier for books," jokes Singh.

"But I think what the public chose is a design that really recalled the ancient traditions of libraries on the outside and on the inside it's a really modern flexible space."

Continual change

Singh says adaptability has been a guiding principle for the library to ensure it is keeping up with the needs of the public.

Earlier this month, the library unveiled its brand new, 7,500-sq.-ft. custom-built digital media 'Inspiration Lab,' featuring high-speed computers with the latest audio and video editing software and fully-equipped recording studios.

The library is also expanding into two upper floors, which the provincial government currently leases, that will become an outdoor garden and more publicly accessible space that can be used by families, students and community groups.

"In Vancouver we are the last fee-free public space, so there's really a demand for that use," said Singh.

Singh expects more changes over the next few years, especially given the city's changing demographic.

"No one anticipated the many families living in Yaletown now and we have a real diverse community of young people that uses the central library as their local community library, not just as the downtown reference branch."


To hear the full interview with Sandra Singh, listen to the audio labelled VPL turns 20.