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Library volunteers are Squamish’s unsung heroes

Kay Austen of Squamish Public Library's Visiting Library Program shares the joy of reading with those confined to their homes.
Kay Austen helps with Squamish's Visiting Library Program.

For 16 years, Kay Austen has been freely giving her time to lend a hand wherever she’s needed at the Squamish Public Library.

Most recently, she has been part of the institution’s Visiting Library Program, which delivers books and other materials to people who are housebound. It’s a job that requires a personal touch.

“I like this delivery work, and the reason why is because you get to know the patron so well,” said Austen. “You get to know them as a friend. You’re fulfilling a real need.”

Austen currently serves someone who goes through four books a week and likes mysteries—but they can’t be too violent. Her client likes Agatha Christie—but not so much the author’s short stories.

Finding the right mix of materials is a constant balancing act. And the physical requirements of doing this job are no easy task, especially as Austen is currently using a walker to assist her in getting around.

“It won’t be long before I’m going to be at the receiving end, because I’m waiting for a new hip,” she said with a chuckle.

This Squamish retiree is just one example of the many unsung heroes in our community who don’t necessarily wear capes. They make community life happen in Squamish. They are a cornerstone that creates a sense of belonging in town. Without them, many services and events that we take for granted can’t happen.

They are volunteers. And while they are often unrecognized, their work is essential to creating a functioning community.

Ever since she was a teen, Austen had an affinity for libraries.

Back when she was growing up, in order to get away from the rambunctious noise of her three brothers, she sought refuge amidst the shelves of books. It became a weekly ritual for her to go to the library every weekend.

“By the time I hit high school, our house was really raucous,” said Austen. “There were people running around everywhere, and I needed a place to escape. And so when I discovered the library, every Saturday afternoon, that was my place to go. So I formed a relationship with libraries then, and loved them ever since.”

She worked as a high school teacher in England, but when she moved to Canada, she started teaching elementary. In that role, she was also tasked with being a teacher-librarian.

“It was just a lovely job. It was just so much fun,” she said.

Austen was now able to share her enthusiasm about one of her favourite places with new generations.

She guided children who were learning how to use the library. She’s since seen things evolve from card catalogues to computer databases.

One of the most satisfying parts of working in libraries has been watching people become independent in their use of the facility’s services, Austen said. For example, seeing people learn to find the books and media they desire on their own has been a real point of satisfaction for her.

“One of the joys, I think, is seeing people finding that they can do it without any help. They don’t need to ask you in the end,” she said.

When she moved to Squamish 16 years ago, she decided that she would volunteer her time to help out at the local library.

For years, she’s been helping out with just about anything that staffers have needed assistance with. Then, one day, Austen learned the mother of one library staffer was housebound, and she volunteered to bring books to her. That’s where she got her start in her current role in the Visiting Library Program, and she’s been doing that ever since.

Rachel Berquist, the library’s programming and outreach co-ordinator, said the Visiting Library Service got its official start in April 2021.

“It is a volunteer-supported program where our volunteers provide delivery of library materials to homebound patrons in our community,” said Berquist in a written statement. “They provide a valuable connection to the library, making library services and collections accessible to many more people in our community than just those who come through our doors.”

At the moment, there are nine active volunteers participating in the Visiting Library Service. They’re serving between 15 to 20 people in Squamish.

She added this service is available to anyone who is homebound in the Squamish Public Library’s service area. If you know anyone who could benefit from this program, you can visit

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