It’s being seen as a big blow to a small community in Lake Country, B.C.
Residents in Oyama, a Lake Country neighbourhood, are concerned about the planned closure of the local library branch.
The Okanagan Regional Library is shutting down the Oyama branch, arguing the money will be better spent expanding services at the other Lake Country library branch.
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However, concerned residents say expanded services elsewhere won’t make up for the loss of their local branch.
“I am heartbroken,” said Oyama resident Bridget Ross about the planned closure.
“When we heard it was really sudden and, to be honest, it was crushing. This library has meant the world to us, to my family, to my kids. They grew up here.”
The Oyama branch has meant a lot to many people in the small community.
“My parents, as they became elderly, were home-bound and relied on friends to pop by [the library]. [They] had a very close telephone relationship with the librarian. It was like a lifeline to them,” said Oyama resident Lani Stait.
Residents say that if the doors of the Oyama branch close at the end of October, as planned, they’ll be losing not just a library, but also a community hub.
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“It is such a little heart of our community,” said Oyama resident Katharine Russell.
“It’s a growing community. It is so demoralizing to have this free resource taken away, especially in the middle of COVID. You have so many more things that you can’t do or you can’t afford to do and it’s free, it’s here, it’s such a wonderful part of our community. To see it go away is really disheartening.”
The Okanagan Regional Libary said it’s closing the Oyama branch to provide better service for a wider number of people, as closing the Oyama location will allow the library to expand operating hours at its other Lake Country location in the neighbouring community of Winfield.
“Closing a library is not an easy decision,” said Michal Utko, the Okanagan Regional Library’s marketing and communications director.
“It wasn’t a conversation about whether we should keep the library closed or open. It was about how we used the funds that are provided to us in the best way possible.”
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Oyama residents say even with expanded operating hours at the other Lake Country branch, the loss of their local library will still be a blow.
“They are actually taking away an essential service for a lot of the people here,” said Oyama resident Jillian Wong.
“We don’t have a lot of resources. We don’t have a lot of places to gather. In such a small community it really is important for us to be able to meet and connect. I don’t know how they can match that value that’s already here.”
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The library says it will still provide some services to Oyama after the physical library branch closes.
Staff from the main Lake Country branch are expected to travel to Oyama to continue with events like children’s storytime.
“We all empathize with the loss of the library, but the Okanagan Regional Library Board, management, staff and I do feel that it is the best possible solution for a larger population of Lake Country people,” Utko said.
Utko admits the Okanagan Regional Library did not consult residents about the planned closure.
“Right from the beginning we knew that Oyama residents and the Oyama community would not support the closure of the branch so we felt like public consultation was not going to be a part of our process, ” Utko said.
“As I mentioned it was a very difficult decision already because we knew there was going to be a community impact, so that’s why there was no public consultation.”
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Concerned residents are hoping the library board will reconsider the branch closure.
However, the library spokesperson said the decision to shut down the branch is final.
The last operating day for the Oyama library is scheduled to be Oct. 28.
The building that houses the library was recently sold, but the new owners said they had hoped the library would stay.
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