February 17, 2018

Sandra Singh | Movers & Shakers 2006

Telling the Library’s Story

As director of the eastern branches of Vancouver Public Library (VPL), BC, Sandra Singh routinely uses library statistics, though she knows the ultimate measure of a library’s value is in ‘people helped, lives enriched, and communities improved.’ That impact only appears in the stories people tell.

Suite101.com (Canada’s answer to about.com), where Singh had served as cybrarian, had sponsored an essay contest about how the Internet changes people’s lives. Moved by the results, Singh was sure a similar contest about public libraries would yield equally powerful stories. Singh convinced her colleagues at the British Columbia Library Association and the provincial library agency to sponsor the contest and even enlisted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. ‘That was huge in terms of public profile,’ she says.

The contest, known as Beyond Words, was conducted online. Over 350 people submitted essays, which appear on the web site. A booklet of the winning stories – a bullied child finding sanctuary, a withdrawn old man connecting with a child, a gay man learning self-acceptance – was printed. Multiple copies were sent to each public library in British Columbia, just before local elections. ‘Many libraries sent copies to municipal candidates and provincial politicians,’ Singh says. ‘At VPL, we’re also sending them out with foundation requests.’

Diana Guinn of Port Moody Public Library calls Singh a visionary with ‘the tenacity of a terrier about making her vision a reality.’ And not just in BC – her vision of storytelling as a tool for library advocacy has spread throughout Canada.


Current Position Director, Branches East & Outreach Services, Vancouver Public Library, BC
Degrees MLIS University of British Columbia, 1997
Fun Fact Loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer