Metrotown library marks 20 years

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Expect a wide range of programming as Burnaby Public Library's Bob Prittie Metrotown branch marks its 20th anniversary with 20 hours of programming on Saturday, Oct. 1.

The day will start with a light community breakfast of coffee and muffins at 7 a.m. Saturday and ends following a film noir double bill at 3 a.m. Sunday morning.

In between, activities will include tai chi and Chinese dance demonstrations at Civic Square next door, a children's puppet show, performances by Tempos Youth Choir and Silk Road Music, video games for teens and birthday cupcakes.

Library staff will also announce the prize winners of contests including "your favourite book moment" and "Chinese readers' favourites."

The contests themselves offer an indication of how much the library has changed. While it used to share a multilingual collection through the national library, the branch now has a Chinese language collection second in size only to its English offerings, said Metrotown branch manager Deb Thomas. With Chinese speakers making up about 30 per cent of Burnaby's population, it's very well used.

Before the Metrotown branch opened in 1991, the area was served by a much smaller branch on Kingsway closer to Central Park and the main branch was the former Kingsway location, said Thomas.

The Kingsway branch, since replaced by the Tommy Douglas branch and currently being used as a temporary community centre, was only about 14,000 square feet. That was dwarfed by the Metrotown branch when it opened, at 60,000 square feet.

Former chief librarian Paul Whitney once said he anticipated 1,500 people a day would eventually use it, but it now sees 2,500 people daily on average, she noted.

In addition to changes in the material now available through the library, from downloadable e-books and audiobooks to DVDs and streaming music, the way people use the branch has also changed, she said.

It used to be that people picked out their books, hung around, then left. Nowadays, many people spend hours there at a time, reading magazines and newspapers, or are students who stay and study there all day.

"We're becoming used more as a space as well as a place to borrow materials."

The corner where it's located, at Willingdon Avenue and Kingsborough Street, has been completely transformed in the intervening 20 years.

"If you look at the photos, basically it's an empty sky," Thomas said, referring to the lack of highrises. Photos from 1989 show lots of trees and a house on the property, which has also served as the site of Burnaby school district offices and the Phillips and Hoyt Lumber Company in the past.

"The neighbourhood has changed dramatically, the diversity and density have changed substantially."

The library is increasingly one of the first stops made by new immigrants to Burnaby, often folks who come from countries without a public library system.

"You can see the wonder in their eyes—'this is all free?'"

The library will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The film noir double bill, Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt and Orson Welles' The Stranger, runs 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. It will take place in the program room, with access on the east side of the building, off Civic Square.

More information about the event and the contests:

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