Established in 1930, the Fraser Valley Regional Library System was the first of its kind in North America. Today it is the largest public library system in British Columbia, with 24 community libraries serving 680,000 people in its service area.
The idea of bringing the library to the rural population in BC began with a 1927 province-wide survey conducted by the Provincial Public Library Commission. The key finding from this survey was that large administrative library districts based on cooperation, and resource sharing between municipalities and school districts should be created to serve rural communities who could not afford to provide library service on their own.
Based on this recommendation the Commission sought funding to carry out an initial trial project. The Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded a grant of $100,000 to establish and maintain a rural library project for five years. The Library’s first director Dr. Helen Gordon Stewart went about organizing the district, selecting books, hiring staff, and purchasing a truck suitable for use as a book van.
The Fraser Valley Book Van project covered an area of approximately 2,600 square kilometres and contained 24 separate governing bodies. Operating in conjunction with local libraries located in the larger towns throughout the valley the Book Van made its first public appearance in July of 1930. Stopping at grocery stores, schoolhouses and gas stations the van visited rural residents from Hope to Ladner with books displayed along its outside shelves.
In order to continue library service to the Fraser Valley after the Carnegie funds were exhausted, residents were asked to vote whether they wished to support the library through local taxes. Twenty of the original 24 areas voted "yes". The resources of the Carnegie rural library project were turned over to the new Library Board of Management on September 28, 1934, during a ceremony held in Chilliwack.
Today funding for the Fraser Valley Regional Library still comes from taxes raised in the communities it serves along with a Government of BC operating grant. With its mission "To Connect People to the World of Information and Ideas," FVRL plays a prominent role in the communities throughout the Fraser Valley.