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Need a Darth Vader cake pan or a backpack with binoculars?

Across Canada, local public libraries get creative during COVID.

Over the past year of lockdowns and restrictions, public libraries have figured out countless creative ways to continue serving their communities during a pandemic. In addition to regular lending services, libraries across Canada now offer online programming, news subscriptions and entertainment as well as curbside options such as printing services, free Wi-Fi, activities and community information along with art, craft and STEM project kits for all ages. Just about all of these services are “essential,” particularly as the pandemic drags on. 

Libraries “help with mental health, keep people connected and provide current information,” Carolyn Dawkins, Bracebridge Public Library (BPL) Assistant/Office Manager, tells Christian Courier. 

Libraries are community hubs,” Mary Kapusta, Communications Director at Calgary Public Library, says, “that connect people to new ideas, accurate information, and each other. I am blown away with the level of innovation from libraries across Canada as they work to serve people as best as they can under these restrictions.”

an online event poster
Linwood Barclay Event with Muskoka Libraries.

Accessible and creative 

With varied restrictions in place, both pick-up strategies and options for hard copy borrowing have gotten inventive. Ensuring that pick-ups are safe is essential; in most areas, patrons can call the library or go online to place their orders. Pick-up then typically happens outdoors, often at a given time slot, through a window or from a table with a plastic barrier. Without personal browsing available, library staff generously go out of their way to help patrons select items that are suitable for their needs. 

“People return time and again,” Lizann Brunskill, Baysville Branch Librarian of the Lake of Bays Township Public Library (LBTPL), tells CC, “to ask for our personalized selections of materials and tell us they so appreciate us helping them discover new materials when they can’t come into our buildings to browse for themselves.”

But it goes far beyond books: both BPL and LBTPL have been creating project kits for children and adults to pick up and do at home. These kits range from DIY science experiments to DIY décor. BPL even has a cake pan lending program! At the Baysville Branch of LBTPL, snow inspired further creativity: “In the winter LBTPL partnered with Parks staff to snow plow a winding pathway in the park, and we set up a series of riddles for people to read and solve as they walked along. We’re always trying to think of different ways to safely engage our communities,” Brunskill says. Last year, the Lake of Bays Library had outdoor story time walks and has more recently started a Fitbit lending program. Some libraries lend out Provincial Park day passes. Toronto Public Library offers a multi-lingual Dial-A-Story program, a service where families can call in and “listen to a story any time of day for free.”  

Free online library options throughout Canada are abundant and include e-book and audio book downloads; entertainment streaming services; access to full newspaper and magazine issues; virtual story times, naturalist and author talks; genealogy tools; e-learning resources; cooking, craft and art tutorials; book clubs and trivia challenges.   

Helping vulnerable populations

“The role of the library is changing,” Guelph Library CEO Steve Kraft says. “We’re becoming one of those essential non-essential services.” As reported by CBC, some Toronto libraries have become food bank distribution sites; Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque has invited individuals who are homeless inside for warmth, washrooms and access to social workers; Calgary Public Library has loaned out laptops to students in need; and, in Halifax, public libraries have handed out activities and snacks. 

a woman holding up a children's book
Storytime with Miss Ashleigh at Coco Chanel300.

Both Guelph and Region of Waterloo libraries have begun loaning out wi-fi devices and have also extended their wi-fi to reach the parking lot. “We’re fulfilling a need,” Kitchener Public Library CEO Mary Chevreau says of the library’s wi-fi services. “Particularly for new Canadians, new immigrants as well as those who are more vulnerable due to their economic situation.” While not all libraries have the funding for device lending programs, many libraries are attempting to reduce barriers to access in other ways, such as cancelling their late fines. These kinds of changes benefit the whole community. As Brunskill says, “anything we can do to safely support mental or physical health helps keep our community safe and healthy.” Essential services indeed.

  • Candice is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Bracebridge, Ontario with her husband and three children. Get in touch with Candice by emailing moc.liamg@yram.yerdua.ecidnac.

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