street urchins

The latest public facility to become off-limits during the 2010 Olympic is the Whistler Public Library. The $15 million public facility will be closed from January 30 to March 8, 2010 (a total of five weeks) to accommodate Olympics VIPs and to become a temporary bar.

The library will be used as a hosting facility for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), the Government of BC, and the Government of Canada.

Like the mythical phoenix, “the Whistler Public Library will be reborn as Whistler Canada Olympic House during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.”

According the Library’s Director,  Lauren Stara, “While this is not ideal for Whistler library users, our beautiful building will be a showcase for athletes & their families, as well as dignitaries from around the world. For the most part, the facility will be “accredited” that is, you will have to be authorized to enter.”

Some library staff will be working in the library building, while others will be “redeployed” to other municipal departments, where their services will be seconded to the Olympic organizing committee – VANOC.

What library closure means to the community

Visit the library on any given day, it’s filled with hundreds of local residents, seasonal employees, tourists, children and Whistler’s homeless folks, reading, checking emails on the free computers, chatting with friends or relaxing in between work shifts. In fact, the Whistler Public Library has one of the highest circulation rates per capita in B.C. Visitors to the library went up from 98,000 to 247,000 in 2008.

With the “gathering hub” of the community off-limits during the busy winter season, our public space is limited to a handful of coffee shops or one’s small home, while all the public space in town is gobbled up by corporate interests.

Oly and the Fat Cats Coming to Town

This week, Whistler’s mayor and council approved a special temporary liquor license for the library to meet the hospitality needs of the games, with a maximum capacity of 999 people. The permit can be viewed at IOC Song.

While the “Olympic fat cats” eat, drink and mingle with their VIP friends, government officials and royal dignitaries, are we expected to watch them through the windows like peasants, in a scene reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

Olympic organizers tried the same thing in Vancouver, but public interests prevailed and the Vancouver Public Library’s main branch will remain open during the Olympics.

The Good News

Even though residents have lost a “key” public facility to the Olympics, there is some good news.

Local taxpayers will be pleased to learn that the RMOW and COC, “Are planning four public events during the closure, so that Whistler residents can see what’s going on in the building, and have the opportunity to meet some athletes and other celebrities.” A very thoughtful gesture and I’ m sure that cake will be served.

Library staff will be dismantling and storing about half of the shelving, so they’re encouraging residents to take out as many books as we can (one wouldn’t want Jacques Rogge or the IOC members to slip on a book after a few cognacs). The 20-item limit will be suspended and the loan time will increase from three to six weeks.

With so many transient/seasonal workers in town, I wonder how many of those books and DVDs will never make it back and will have to be replaced?

The shelves and books will be moved back in and the library will re-open on Monday, March 8, but additional closures will start again on March 12 to accommodate events for the Canadian Paralympic Committee. The exact times of closing have not yet been determined.

Hopefully our local government had the foresight to rent the public facility out for a hefty sum, to help offset the mounting debts from the games.


Pina Belperio

Welcome to Word of the Rings, a new blog that aims to serve as a one-stop examination at what’s happening behind the scenes in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Pina...