Denman Island, DIRA, and the VIRL : A Personal History in response to a recent Facebook Discussion


For reasons I know not, decades ago, a decision was made not to institute a branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library on Denman Island.

I suspect that people were happy with the local volunteer library, the Dora Drinkwater.

Jump forward a decade or two. Shortly after I moved to Denman in 2004, senior staff of the VIRL attended a DIRA meeting. They basically discussed their strategic plan of the day which was to create a Denman Island branch of VIRL. Just before, or likely just after, a rather simple survey of Denman Islanders heavily favoured the plan to have a public library.

Not too long after that, late 2004, or perhaps early 2005, DIRA created a Liaison position. The DIRA-VIRL Liaison. I volunteered.

The terms of reference were:


DIRA Liaison to VIRL Mission Statement and Terms of Reference (Revised along the way)

Mission Statement

To assist the community of Denman Island to acquire a branch of VIRL at the earliest possible moment

Terms of Reference

  • As Denman is scheduled to acquire a VIRL branch at some point in the future, the role of the DIRA Liaison is to assist ongoing communications between the Denman Community, DIRA and VIRL.
  • The DIRA Liaison to the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) will facilitate regular reciprocal communication between VIRL and DIRA by meetings and e-mail.
  • The DIRA Liaison will maintain regular information updates with the Dora Drinkwater Community Librarians.
  • The DIRA Liaison will recommend strategies to DIRA to keep the entire community and DIRA current on any developing initiatives related to the implementation of a VIRL Branch Library on Denman Island.
  • The DIRA liaison will recommend, when VIRL has taken meaningful and tangible action to move forward with the creation of a Denman Branch, that a representative committee of DIRA (and the wider community) be struck to support and facilitate community consultation and other processes required towards the realization of a public library on Denman Island.


Although I reported back annually to the DIRA AGM after that, nothing much ever happened.

This extract from my 2008/09 report summarizes those first few years:

“The role of VIRL/DIRA Liaison has existed for at least the past four years. Up until the end of the 07/08 DIRA year, it amounted to nothing much more than a few communications with the then VIRL Director of Support Services, Martin Gavin, enquiring about the status of the proposed Denman Library. We had been advised some years ago that 2008 would see some action. Essentially the plan was that VIRL would advertise for expressions of interest to house a VIRL Branch on Denman.

With the decision in late 2008 by the VIRL Board of Directors to hire a consultancy firm to review all of its facility standards, future building projects were effectively put on hold.

It is 2009 and very little has happened. Recent communications with Rosemary Bonnano, the Executive Director of VIRL, indicates that the Library Board will, at their late March meeting, receive the draft Request for Proposal information which, if passed, will permit them to advertise on BC Bid for a consultant to do the review.

This likely means it will be some months before the review is completed.”


The 2010 VIRL Facilities Report basically severed any hope Denman would garner a branch of the Public Library system within the foreseeable future. Where once we had been included in the discarded earlier Strategic Plan of VIRL, we were now not mentioned.

In the February 2011 Flagstone, I submitted the following article:

Libraries, Damn Libraries and Library Statistics- a long overdue report on

“Going VIRL ”

Bill Engleson- DIRA liaison to the Vancouver Island Regional Library

“From the moment I picked your book up until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter.  Someday I intend reading it.”  Groucho Marx

Some days, the notion that Denman Island might one day have its own little VIRL branch almost convulses me and others, those few with a regular inside track to my ramblings about the inertia of VIRL liaison engagement, with raucous laughter. For the past four or five years, almost as long as I have been on Denman, I have served as the Liaison between DIRA and the VIRL. Additionally, as one of the Dora Drinkwater Library Volunteers, I have supposed that I am reasonably well placed to foster the goal of finagling a branch of VIRL on Denman. We are, on Denman, rich with the tradition of the Dora Drinkwater Community Library. In the absence of any public library coming to Denman, we are sustained by her. Still, she is under-utilized. Though she serves as a repository for many of Denman’s more valuable and occasionally requisitioned documents, and sees on average, 6-8 patrons during the 2 hours each of the six days a week it is opened, she does not profit from many of the wider services a public branch would bring.

“The best of my education has come from the public library… my tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents a day for an overdue book.  You don’t need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library.” Lesley Conger

The fiscal reality of library politics here and everywhere is dark and ominous.   Recently, in Toronto, the new Mayor has speculated about closing at least one neighbourhood branch of the Library. British Columbia is also facing increasing constriction of Library services as public funds become more precious…though they have always been preciously, some say precociously, dispensed. In 2009, I sent the following missive to the Times Colonist. I believe it captured a certain existing political reality then, one which has not much abated as we tiptoe into 2011.

“I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read. I went through the BC School system so something must have been working right way back in those magical days of the 1950’s. As I think about the incredible pleasures, both practical and esoteric, that flow from the simple ability to read, I wonder about current  conflicting policy initiatives that, on the one hand, supports occasional well-publicized efforts to spread literacy and, on the other hand, systemically slash existing library budgets to assuage failed, Olympic-sized, political ambitions .

On my small island of 1200 people, we have a longstanding, yet incredibly basic, volunteer library. Many of us hope that VIRL will one day soon be able to actually provide not just a part-time local library branch but all of the onsite benefits that would accrue.

How the backwards attack on Libraries by the beleaguered Liberals will affect our wish to share in the benefits of a branch of the Library system is clearly an unknown at the moment. Good people are trying to rectify this longstanding oversight.

In most communities, Libraries are a valued community asset and reading a vital human activity. Our political system may need people of greater vision than those presently charged with the task of government.”


“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Cicero

Where are we today?

In June of 2010, a contracted Facilities Report was presented to the VIRL Board. This report itemized a number of significant and potentially costly repairs and improvements which buildings leased and owned by VIRL require. The report neglected to make any reference to the notion of a public Library on Denman.

Our Regional District Rep, Bruce Jolliffe, who represents the CVRD on the cumbersomely large VIRL Board of Directors, recently added the issue of a library branch on Denman to the CVRD agenda. Though appreciated, this is an introductory gesture and will need to be built upon. The next step, it seems to me, is for the VIRL Board of Directors to have substantive discussion on the matter, culminating is some definitive (and meaningful) action.

VIRL recently extracted a statistical summary of items borrowed from VIRL by people registered as Denman Island residents over the period January 2009-October (approximately) 2010.

Even with the few small quibbles I may have about the overall validity of the data, the information, at the least, seems to support the premise, hardly earth shattering, that residents of Denman are strong and active users of VIRL. Over a two-year period, between Jan 2009 and an unclear date late in 2010, VIRL stats suggest that over 243,000 library items were borrowed by 444 Denman residents. While this seems a somewhat overstated number, the salient point is that a substantial number of Islanders are registered and active VIRL users. It is important to note that over 100 Denman residents also utilize Books by Mail. If you are not familiar with this service, Denman Islanders are eligible to access it because we are classified as rural…a designation only because we do not have a VIRL branch. To get registered, email: or phone 1-877-415-VIRL (8475)


“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.  The only entrance requirement is interest.” Lady Bird Johnson


At the moment, acquiring a public library branch on Denman is not much more than an intellectual exercise. If and when it seems that it might become a certainty, the likely course will be to form a group of the committed to assist in the transformation. Until then, I strongly recommend residents make use of Books by Mail. Additionally, any commentary in Island publications or local newspapers might assist the plodding process of gaining a sustainable branch of VIRL on Denman. Thank you.




Sometime later, in 2012, there was brief spurt of additional political folderol:

“Support for Denman Island library idea”

Comox Valley Echo Published: Friday, March 02, 2012

Denman Island should have its own library branch, says Comox Valley Regional District.

At their board meeting on Tuesday, directors called on the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board to include money for such a branch in its forward capital plan.

Rural Area A director Bruce Jolliffe said the argument for a library had been raised before, without success. But he felt it was time to try to get things moving again, as he was confident the Denman Island community supported the idea.

Comox Coun. Barbara Price said the issue had been discussed some years ago, but the library board had not taken up the idea as one of its priorities. “But I consider it is overdue,” she commented.

Hornby Island already has a branch library run by the VIRLB, as does Union Bay. There are three other branches in the Comox Valley – at Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland.”

To recognize the gesture of the CVRD, I submitted the following letter to the Echo which they graciously published.

“Dear Editor,

As a Denman Island resident who strongly believes a Public Library is an essential ingredient in the life of a healthy community, I have nothing but kudos for the CVRD Board, and especially Area A Rep Bruce Jolliffe, for pursuing and promoting the possibility of a branch of VIRL on Denman. 

 Libraries can be, should be, and often are, the heart and soul of community. While Denman Village, or Downtown Denman as some occasionally call it, has a long standing volunteer library, the Dora Drinkwater Community Library, which I have the pleasure of staffing once every two weeks, does operate on the respected remains of a long worn shoestring and deserves to be transported into the range of services and sweep of the 21st Century Regional Library system.

 There are many of us on Denman who are willing to assist the process and now we ask the VIRL Board to embrace the overture of the CVRD and get the job done.


 Bill Engleson

Denman Island Public Library Activist (if there is such a creature)”



One of the benefits of not having a physical plant is that Denman is deemed to be “rural”, a designation that allows residents to receive Books by Mail. While a marvellous service, and reasonably well utilized, it is not an actual physical library with the wealth of services a physical location provided.

After 2012, there were a few more meetings. A couple of years rolled by. Finally, and I have misfiled my resignation letter, but I believe it was in 2015 or thereabouts, I resigned as the DIRA-VIRL Liaison. No one else expressed interest in the position although it was not advertised.

Though I consider the process and my participation an abject failure, it was interesting. I’ll give it that.


Entering Denman Village


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