Six women gather around a circular table Tuesday at a retirement community in Five Corners, ready to travel.
Today’s vacation involves a trip to Paris, but no one will leave their seat in a common room at Bonaventure of Vancouver. Jamie Bair, an experiential learning librarian with Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, walks over to Melba Zielke with a virtual reality headset in her hand and helps Zielke fit it on.
“Put it on your face first like a scuba mask,” Bair says.
Once situated, Zielke will be transported to the grounds of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
There’s still puzzles on the table to the right; a fridge and a oven just a dozen steps away, and a full bookshelf in the corner. But with the headset on, Zielke will see blue skies if she looks up, tourists and water if she looks around, and the outside of how the cathedral looked before it caught fire in 2019 if she looks straight ahead.
Next, she’ll be transported inside. She’ll see the cathedral’s high ceilings, its stained-glass windows and its rows of pews.
“Very interesting” Zielke says.
Her trip Tuesday is part of a Virtual Vacations program the library system and Three Creeks Library are offering. Many people at retirement communities can’t travel anymore, so why not bring vacations to them?
A trip to the Notre Dame Cathedral. A safari in Africa. An opportunity to see the Northern Lights with your daughter, and check that off your bucket list days after your birthday. Those are things virtual vacationers have done in the half-dozen local offerings so far, says Andrew Parsons, a senior library assistant with Three Creeks.
“They actually get to see the places,” Parson said. “They didn’t just get to read about them and imagine them, but actually got to visually see them.”
Bair says virtual vacations have been empowering, a way for people to use virtual reality technology to experience things they wouldn’t get to otherwise. For Cathy Velaga, her virtual trip to Paris was an opportunity to remember. She visited the cathedral in the late 1970s during a monthlong expedition in Europe.
“It’s the only way I can travel anywhere now,” Velaga says.
“I would have never seen it,” adds Mary Dickinson, who hadn’t visited the cathedral previously.
Tom Haines joins the women in his mobility scooter in the common room. He fits the goggles to his head, and leaves Vancouver for a couple minutes.
“That’s amazing,” he says. “It’s hard to believe you can see it up close.”
Elizabeth Moss, a senior public services librarian for youth services at Three Creeks, says virtual vacations are a good form of outreach to people who can’t visit libraries easily.
“We love our library patrons who come into the library, but we also know we have very valuable services for people who can’t come into the library,” Moss says. “How can we bring our library to them?”
Before Velaga and Dickinson leave the room, and bid adieu to France, Velaga remarks that there will be a roomful of people for the next virtual vacation after they talk to everybody about it. Then they stand up together, and walk away.
“I’m exhausted from my travels,” Velaga says.