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New app invites users to explore city’s past and present

Vancouver Public Library program aims to cultivate and curate community stories
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Through the VPL’s new Explore This Vancouver app, users can take an interactive walking tour called Chinatown Stories: A Narrative Exploration. “It’s a neat way of discovering cool, little places to eat in Chinatown now, but also a little glimpse into the past,” said Kay Cahill, the library’s manager of digital services.

Posterity and preservation are two of the central themes behind a newly-released app from the Vancouver Public Library that aims to link multiple generations of Vancouverites.

Launched last week, Explore This Vancouver offers residents and visitors a chance to tour the city in an interactive manner complete with photos and stories from yesteryear, told by the people who were there.

The first tour in the collection is called Chinatown Stories: A Narrative Exploration. It offers first-hand insights into what it was like to grow up, work and live in of one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.

“It’s a neat way of discovering cool, little places to eat in Chinatown now, but also a little glimpse into the past,” said Kay Cahill, the library’s manager of digital services and former cycling columnist for the Courier. “It really builds up this picture of how Chinatown itself has changed.”

The app is free, and users download their tour of choice to their mobile phone. Clips begin with scene setting and introductory text, and provides users with information around where to start their tours. From there, users put on headphones and listen to the tapestries of storytelling unfold — memories of past businesses, landmarks, eateries and other destinations are recounted.

“You actually get to hear the community voices as you make your way down the street,” Cahill said.

The new app serves as a continuation of work library staff have been doing over the last three years as part of a longer-term strategy. Through compiling digital collections of community-contributed stories, images, audio clips, videos and personal interviews with local residents, the program’s M.O. is to cultivate and curate community stories on a “hyper-local” level.

“These are memories that are lost when the people who hold those memories pass away or move on, so we were looking at how we could bring those memories and stories together to create this different kind of picture of the communities in Vancouver,” Cahill said.

Outside of spreading local knowledge, there are other tangible benefits, as offline access to the tours and maps saves data and roaming costs. As well, it makes the library a more accessible facility than can be offered through its traditional brick and mortar locations.

“We can we get all of these amazing photographs and recordings out into the community so that people don’t necessarily have to come to our website or to our library — they can experience these stories out in the neighbourhoods that the stories are about,” Cahill said.  

Cahill said plans are afoot to expand the tours in the coming months, and it’s expected the next one on the docket will explore the West End.

The app is available for download via Google Play or the iTunes store.

jkurucz@vancourier.com

@JohnKurucz