British Columbia·Photos

Vancouver Public Library full of 'weird and wacky' items

A library card can get you free access to a surprising amount of resources in Vancouver.

VPL is pulling out all its odd resources out for Weird and Wacky tours through the summer

Peter DeGroot with VPL's programming and learning department shows off a book full of textile samples and instructions on how to clean them. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A library card can get you free access to a surprising amount of resources in Vancouver.

Yes, of course there are the books, but did you know the Vancouver Public Library will let you borrow a kilowatt reader, time in recording booths, musical instruments, and even free passes to arts, culture, and recreational venues in the city?

To show off its vast collection and resources, VPL is giving 'Weird and Wacky' tours of its central branch throughout the summer, beginning June 25. 

Peter DeGroot with VPL's programming and learning department will be giving many of the tours, and he promises to wear a tuxedo or some other fancy outfit each time.

"We want to show off the diversity of our collections. We want to show off some of the weird, wacky, and wonderful things we have at Vancouver Public Library," he said.

A copy of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management may help, if you're planning an 19th century themed dinner party. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The hour-long tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays. They're free and don't require registration. 

"We're going to be going back in history, so we're going to be showing off some of our old resources that we don't get to see, like the White House Cookbook, or Mrs. Beeton's Household Tips," said DeGroot.

If you're not sure how to dry-clean various textiles, look no further than the book full of material samples and instructions. If you're curious about the grains of different woods, you'll enjoy flipping through the book filled with actual wood samples.

Are you old enough to remember card catalogues?

They're not the quickest way to find a book at the library anymore, but you can flip through various catalogues and find drink recipes, for instance, carefully clipped from newspapers by a different generation of librarians.

"Our means of finding information has changed, and the library has always been responsive to that. So the formats and the materials we have is constantly evolving," said DeGroot.

Peter DeGroot promises to wear a tuxedo or other fancy suit whenever he leads the Weird and Wacky tours at Vancouver Public Library. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"When e-readers were popular, the library purchased e-readers and people could borrow those. E-readers are sort of phased out and people are reading on tablets, so come to the library and borrow a tablet."

The tour will include a stop at VPL's Inspiration Lab, an area stocked with recording equipment, studios, and computer stations to edit audio, video, or photo projects.

Special collections

The Weird and Wacky library tour may pass right by the special collections on the seventh floor, but if you pop inside, you'll find a trove of old photos, maps, and books.

"We've got a little gallery up right now — Philip Timms. He was a prominent Vancouver photographer, print maker, entertainer, etcetera," said library technician Kim McCarthy.

VPL library technician Kim McCarthy holds a glass negative of one of Philip Timms' photographs of Vancouver from the early 1900s. The negatives are part of the library's special collections. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"He was a bit of a street photographer. A lot of it is documenting life in the streets in Vancouver, lots on Chinatown and early Vancouver."

Most of the items in special collections are hidden away.

"We have a collection of at least 250,000 pieces, and I think we've actually looked at and accessioned, maybe, 100,000 of them, so there's a lot that I'll never see too," said McCarthy.

Vancouver Public Library's special collections includes early publications of Captain George Vancouver's account of his exploration. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"People can ask for any of it ... We pull things out for people all the time."

McCarthy can help you find some remarkable stuff if you know what to look for. There's an old publication of Captain George Vancouver's account of his travels up the West Coast from the late 18th century.

"Those are some very early editions. They're from — I think the first one was around 1798 and they're written by Captain Vancouver himself, although I think they were completed by his brother," said McCarthy.

VPL library technician Kim McCarthy looks at some glass negatives on the light table at the special collections part of the the library. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

There's an ongoing effort to digitize the material and make it widely accessible online, typically for free use. Almost everything else will require McCarthy or her colleagues' assistance.

"We would never refuse. We have things that are precious that we would handle, but we wouldn't refuse to let anyone see anything."

Public garden

The Weird and Wacky tour guides will also stop to show off plans for the library's uppermost floors.

There's a major project underway to open up the eighth and ninth floors, which had been leased by the provincial government for the last 20 years.

A roughly 13,000-square-foot section of the ninth-floor office space will be torn out to create a public outdoor garden

Vancouver Public Library's central branch downtown already has a green roof, but it's off limits to the public. In 2018, a new rooftop garden will be built for public use. (Vancouver Public Library)

"We'll be looking at construction starting in 2017 and the garden opening and the whole of the two floors, so level eight and nine opening in 2018," said Dawn Ibey, acting director of library experience.

"We're going to have a 60-seat auditorium that will be available for events such as concerts, musical performances."

There's also a plan underway to move the Vancouver Archives into VPL's central branch.

Dawn Ibey, acting director of library experience at VPL, says the rooftop garden will be open to the public some time in 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We're in early stages of talking with the archives about how we'll live together, and we know that they'll be moving into the seventh floor," said Ibey, adding that won't begin until sometime in 2018.

For tuxedo-clad DeGroot, it's all part of providing resources to the community.

"It's Vancouver Public Library, it's for the citizens of Vancouver. It's a public institution and it's a library. It's a glorious thing, it's a glorious resource and it's your resource."