Reflections on Public Library Closures During COVID-19 - theHumm April 2020

Reflections on Public Library Closures During COVID-19 - theHumm April 2020

By Meriah Caswell

The Carleton Place Public Library closed its doors to the public at 5:30pm on Friday, March 13, without knowing when they would reopen.

The previous day I had been naively trying to convince my staff and colleagues that with increased sanitation measures and enforced social distancing, libraries could remain open to serve our communities.

When I received the news that the library would have to close, there was an immediate whirlwind of activity. Library staff frantically tried to cover our bases for a long-term closure: schedules for emptying the book drop, cancelling deliveries and room bookings, determining how to change due dates for our library system en masse, and a thousand other details we have never had to consider before.

When the library finally closed its doors and staff had left, I remained behind. The whirlwind was over, and there was nothing left to do. I felt oddly hollowed-out and more than a bit dazed by the speed at which everything had changed. More than that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had failed.

Libraries are often a quiet, positive force during times of distress. The Ferguson Municipal Public Library famously remained open to the public during the 2014 Ferguson Riots, providing a calm refuge for a shattered community. In Thunder Bay it is the library who is providing leadership for Reconciliation in a city that has been nationally recognized for systemic racism. Of course, the closures of public places due to the COVID-19 pandemic are very different from these examples. By closing, libraries are doing more for the safety of their communities than the real risk they would pose by remaining open. And yet, the heart of the problem is the same: a community is hurting, and people are needing reliable information and stability. It is the very void a library is meant to fill. And I had just locked the library’s doors to our community.

In the week that followed our library shook off the shock of the closure and went to work: we put a table outside with free books on it for community members to take, relaxed policies to allow over-the-phone card renewals and signups to remove barriers to our digital collections, directed more money into our online resources, and began offering activity ideas for kids on our social media pages. My colleagues in other Lanark and Renfrew libraries began doing the same.

In the next few weeks I know library staff will be coming up with interesting and creative ways to serve our community. We will follow the examples set by other excellent libraries before us and do what our community needs us to do in its time of need. When we are allowed to reopen, you will find your library as it was back in March: solid, smelling of lignin, with staff who are overjoyed to see you back.

In the meantime, here is a listing of what libraries in our area are currently able to offer. Please check their websites frequently, as the situation is changing almost daily.

Here’s what’s happening at the Arnprior Public Library

1. We have boosted Wi-Fi access to the parking lot (bandwidth as well as a stronger signal), and it is available 24/7

2. We are issuing eAccess memberships so people without library cards can access online resources right away

3. Our eResources page on the website is constantly being updated as publishers and vendors such as Tumble Books offer expanded and free access. We’ve also added a list of free websites, particularly for children’s interests and learning.

4. We’re using social media to promote online resources

5. We are ensuring our Little Lending Libraries in outlying areas remain stocked. This is a new project in partnership with the Men’s Shed. We are setting out free books as a makeshift Little Lending Library (i.e. a box) outside of the main library as well.

6. The Book Drop remains open. When books are returned in the drop, they are wiped down before signing in — we’re going to have the cleanest books around :)

7. No fines are being accumulated. Patrons still receive their one day pre-date due message so that they receive a list of what they still have at home, and then those items are automatically renewed by the library. This way not all items will be due back in the same few days. NOTE: At the start of the closure Arnprior had more than 6,000 items in circulation!

8. All reserves are on hold until the library reopens

9. Spring events for which we have sold tickets are in the process of being re-booked: The 120 tickets sold for the April 27 Bob McDonald (CBC’s Quicks and Quarks) will be honoured at the rescheduled date (yet to be determined); Stephen Fearing Concert for May 1 will be rescheduled (date yet to be determined) and again the 110 tickets sold to date will be honoured for the new date.

While closed, the Carleton Place Public Library is supporting our community in the following ways:

1. We have purchased new eBooks and eAudiobooks to reduce waiting periods for digital holds, and have added new TumbleBook collections

2. We will be offering online programming in the near future

3. We are renewing and issuing library cards for patrons to have access to digital resources

4. Loan periods have been extended to May 1 and there are no fines during this time

5. The library book drop remains open for patrons to return their materials

6. We have set up a table of puzzles, books and DVDs outside the library that people can take from

7. We have 24/7 Wi-Fi outside the building, and are investigating options for boosting this connection

8. All holds are being kept until after the library re-opens

9. We are offering activity ideas for kids through our social media pages

While closed, Lanark Highlands Public Library is supporting the community in the following ways:

1. We are renewing and issuing library cards for patrons to have access to digital resources

2. Loan periods have been extended to the end of April and there are no fines during this time

3. Currently the library book drop remains open for patrons to return their materials

4. We have set up a table of puzzles, books and DVDs outside the municipal office that people can take from

5. We have 24/7 Wi-Fi outside the building

6. All holds are being kept until after the library re-opens

7. We are keeping the community up-to-date with ideas for staying entertained during this time as well as keeping the apprised of the COVID situation

8. We are working on several projects that will make searching our catalog and finding materials easier once we do reopen

Here’s an update from the Mississippi Mills Public Library (Almonte and Pakenham) :

1. The MMPL digital library is open!

2. Details on how to borrow online e-books and audio books as well as how to access films via KANOPY are at the digital library page of the website: Please note: You need to omit the final digit of your library card when you sign-in to the digital library applications, IF your library card number begins with 2 (the new cards).

3. All library materials are globally renewed until April 30, 2020

4. The further accumulation of overdue fines has been disabled

5. We are providing free books at both the Amonte and Pakenham branches! Please take what you need, leaving enough for your neighbours.

Here’s an update about the Perth Union Library and how we’re serving the community during the library’s closure:

1. We’ve just launched our new website (perfect timing!) and we’ve linked multiple resources for people of all ages

2. We’re temporarily renewing and issuing library cards by email (with proof of address) to ensure patrons have access to our digital resources

3. We have extended return dates for all materials checked out to April 13 so no late fines will be charged during the closure

4. The library’s book drop remains open for returns (although we ask that patrons not return books if they don’t feel well)

5. The library will be deep-cleaned prior to re-opening

6. We have an open Wi-Fi network accessible outside the building 24/7. (Use it if you need it, but remember to practice healthy social distancing!)

7. All reserves will be held until the library re-opens

8. We are keeping the community up to date with regular social media updates

While the Renfrew Public Library is closed to the public, we are still attempting to reach out “virtually” to our community at this time:

1. Our Wi-Fi password is posted for people to use outside the building

2. We are issuing cards for people wishing to access the e-resources

3. Drop box is open 24/7

4. Reserves will be held until the library re-opens

5. There are no fines, and items will be due back when we re-open to the public

6. We will be streaming programs, such as a gardening series and a video discussion group

7. An info page on our website is dedicated to COVID-19 information

8. We have updated our e-resources page making it more user-friendly and fun… and we continue to release social media posts and update the website

At the Smiths Falls Public Library :

1. We are issuing and renewing library cards over the phone so patrons can access digital resources.

2. Our book drop is open for book returns.

3. All due dates have been extended until after the library re-opens (no overdue fines).

4. Our Wi-Fi is still on and can be accessed outside the building.

5. Some of our programs will be moving online so check our Facebook page for up to date information.

6. We are sharing on social media some of the great educational and entertainment resources available online.


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