While interviewing Dr. Brandon Yau for our story on poor air quality due to wildfires, the physician and medical health officer for Interior Health suggested residents familiarize themselves with informal clean-air spaces, such as Kamloops’ libraries, if in need of a reprieve from smoky skies this wildfire season.
This week, The Wren explored one of the local libraries to learn more about the resources community members can access.
The public library is one space that connects community members with a wealth of low-barrier resources without the expectation of spending money.
This week, The Wren spoke with Margo Schiller, the manager of Kamloops Libraries & Engagement at Thompson-Nicola Regional Library (TNRL), about how public libraries act as a safe space for clean air, cooling and essential resources.
While registering for a library card is necessary to gain access to books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, instruments and experiences, Schiller explains community members can easily access resources like water, air conditioning, public washrooms and even wifi just by visiting libraries in Kamloops.
“It’s an important role we can play in the community in times of need, and, you know, we have the added benefit that there are different things to do here while you’re cooling off or getting a breath of fresh air,” Schiller says of the library’s ability to act as an informal cooling or clean air centre.
The library is just one of many informal clean-air spaces in Kamloops, including movie theatres, shopping malls and community centres. These spaces provide community members with a place to go if they don’t have HEPA filters in their homes, but they also act as a great place to go to escape another imminent danger – heat.
In a survey conducted on behalf of BC Hydro, researchers found record numbers of British Columbians purchased air conditioners in the summer of 2021. Due to unprecedented temperatures stoked by human-caused climate change, more B.C. residents now view air conditioners as a necessity, according to the report.
That said, air conditioners are expensive and therefore inaccessible to some, making the need for both formal and informal cooling centres all the more essential if hoping to protect our most vulnerable neighbours – some of which don’t have homes to consider cooling.
In late June 2021, when the deadliest extreme weather event in Canada hit Kamloops – the western heat dome – TNRL passed out flats of bottled water and acted as an informal cooling centre for those who didn’t have air conditioning at home, Schiller says.
At that time, Schiller recalls seeing an increase in people coming in specifically looking for water or a reprieve from the heat.
While she thinks there are plans in the works to provide flats of water bottles if heat alerts are activated this year, she hasn’t received any information on concrete plans.
Still, Kamloops libraries do have water fountains that anyone can come in and use within business hours.
Library patrons praise low-barrier resources
The Wren reached out to the community through social media, asking those who frequently visit libraries in Kamloops to send us a message as we were curious about which resources our readers use most.
Brooke Grady, a respondent on Instagram and avid library patron, says while she frequently checks out books from the library and often uses the library’s free LinkedIn Learning courses which patrons can access on library computers, she also recognizes the library as a safe and inclusive space.
“In my opinion, the library is such a valuable place for so many reasons,” Grady says. “The library gives barrier-free and valuable access to so many important resources which are not easily accessed by some, the internet, certain books, games, instruments and the ability to develop your skills through free accredited courses, just to name a few.”
While she doesn’t come to the library solely to shelter from heat or poor air quality, Grady says as a community member, the accessibility of the space is important to Kamloops.
“It’s an incredible resource for this community, considering that this is a central place for people to visit and access clear air and air conditioning without the obligation to spend money,” she says.
“I do believe that one of the most important things about this library is the safe spaces cultivated through bringing people together to enjoy activities and learn something new while meeting someone new. I have no doubt that bonds are created through these activities, and having a place to go where you aren’t obligated to spend can be the difference between someone going and not going.”
Library employees as front-line workers
Libraries have always acted as a community hub and as residents continue to access the space to warm up, cool down, use washrooms and hydrate, library employees are being shifted into front-line work, providing essential services and resources to members of the public.
“Libraries have always been a reflection of the community,” Schiller says. “If there are things happening in the community, such as different issues or challenges, we often see those things happening right here at the library.”
To better equip Kamloops’ library employees with the tools needed to best serve vulnerable individuals, Schiller says TNRL subscribes to Ryan Dowd’s Homeless Library Academy, an online training course for library staff that “provides valuable skills training and understanding for working with our most vulnerable library patrons,” TNRD explained in it’s 2020 Provincial Grants Report.
“The training is excellent for libraries and other organizations and covers de-escalation, how to prevent problems, how to kind of keep things calm, and what to do if you run into certain situations,” Schiller says.
Additionally, a community support worker worked with library staff early this year to break information from the training down into manageable chunks and facilitated weekly refresher courses to make sure employees felt confident in the material learned.
The Wren reached out to Colton Davies, TNRD’s Communications and Marketing Manager, to learn more about how the libraries in Kamloops respond to complex situations.
In an email, Davies shares that security at both the library located downtown and on the North Shore helps to ensure the library remains a safe and inclusive space.
In the fall of 2022, he says TNRD partnered with the City of Kamloops in order to station a Community Service Officer (CSO) at the library on the North Shore, which has “been successful to help ensure a safe experience for patrons, and one added benefit to this is that CSOs are able to connect vulnerable residents with community services.”
Davies also confirmed much of what Schiller shared with us, including the fact that employees have been instructed to call 911 If a member of the public has a health emergency so that the appropriate health agencies can respond.
Thompson-Nicola Regional Library’s “best-kept secret”
As briefly mentioned before, Schiller is keen to inform community members of the multitude of things to do at the library if coming in to escape the heat at some point this summer.
While anybody can come in and access the washrooms, water fountains, air conditioning and wifi, Schiller jokes that TNRL’s library cards are the organization’s “best kept secret,” as they unlock access to a wealth of resources.
Schiller explains that outside of traditional lending practices, the library allows patrons to borrow items from what she says the library likes to call “the library of things,” such as guitars, ukuleles and community passes.
Patrons can sign out community passes to the Wildlife Park, Big Little Science Centre, Kamloops Symphony Orchestra Archives and Kamloops Film Society for up to a week.
Library card holders can also borrow Family Fitness Passes, which unlock access to the entire TCC facility, including the Wellness Centre, indoor track, Canada Games Aquatic Centre, Brock Pool and Westsyde Pool & Fitness Centre.
She says the Family Fitness Pass is a great pass to borrow if patrons are in search of another way to escape the heat.
Further information on the City of Kamloops’ heat response plan can be found on the City’s website. While the location of formal indoor cooling sites have not been determined yet, the City says operational hours and locations of those formal indoor cooling sites will be shared on the City’s website when a heat warning is announced.
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