Laura Kaminker is the first librarian in her position on northern Vancouver Island at the Vancouver Island Regional Library serving the communities of Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Port Alice, Sointula, and Woss. Based out of Port Hardy she oversees the five libraries whose populations vary from 150 people (Woss) to 4,400 people (Port Hardy). On the surface much of her work is similar to that of urban librarians; she says, “Customers have the same information needs, the same entertainment needs, the same tech needs.” But when you get down to the details there is a lot more local flavour than what she experienced in larger systems where she worked in the past, for example in the Toronto suburbs.
Because the branches have limited staff (each branch has 1 part time worker, and 1 full time staff member splits their time amongst the branches) they rely heavily on the strength of local partnerships. This has led to fulfilling partnerships with a variety of local groups including local First Nations communities. The fruits of these partnerships include a cultural literacy kit and regular class visits in the communities.
The close connection to the community is highlighted in one of Kaminker’s favourite stories about the library. Port Hardy is home to a local produce stand entrepreneur who spends much of her days travelling around the region collecting the best fruits and vegetables for her stand. Kaminker introduced her to audiobooks and now selects titles for her on a regular basis. Thrilled, the patron has told Kaminker on the regular that this service has changed her life.
Having lived and worked in New York City and then Toronto it may seem like Kaminker has taken an unexpected turn in her professional life, but she says this is the work she has been seeking. On moving to work in a remote area she reflects, “I was seeking a way to live somewhere totally different, preferably in a small town, and someplace beautiful…When I saw this posted, I knew it was my dream job.”
She has seen the benefits of this move in both the big projects – partnerships with the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nations and the Kwakiutl Nation, opening a gorgeous new library in Woss, writing for the local paper, and in the daily rewards of library work. On that topic she says, “In Port Hardy, which has a large Indigenous presence, the library is one of the places – perhaps the only place – where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people interact informally on a regular basis. Before the pandemic, we’d have a jigsaw puzzle going, customers would work on it together – and I’d see some barriers breaking down, or at least being chipped away a bit.”
For her, working in a remote community comes with the obvious challenges – “fewer resources. Full stop.” – but also a greater ease at getting involved in the community. This, for her, is one of the biggest advantages: “It’s like there’s one stream, and I just stepped in.”
A photo of Laura with a cultural literacy kit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CL44UvwFfB_/