Madawaska Valley Public Library (MV Library) initially set up a system to lend materials without face-to-face contact when Ontario warned of closures of public spaces. But when libraries were mandated to close, MV Library CEO Karen Filipkowski devised a COVID-19 workplan to safeguard staff, maintain and increase online resources, and communicate about those resources with patrons. The workplan gives staff time to accomplish long-needed improvements made easier without the physical presence of library users – truly a silver living inside this COVID-19 cloud. Above: Interior MV Public Library, photo James Di Fiore
Filipkowski explained, “The work hasn’t stopped because the doors are closed. We are doing what we would normally do when people are here: book orders, collection development, cataloguing, re-shelving, book processing. There is more emphasis now on our online resources…. Some work has ramped up quite a bit such as the online presence and adding new databases to the library website (each vendor has different rules).” She added this is an opportunity to do some bigger projects, such as clearing existing backlogs so staff can make a running start when libraries re-open, and undertaking previously-identified projects such as creating a Biography section and weeding out the existing hard cover Fiction section. Every non-fiction book must move in order to find shelf space for the Biography section. Cataloguing new items is ongoing, too; last year 1,215 items were added to the collection.
Borrow books during closure; keep them for longer
In recognition that many residents encounter challenges accessing the internet, while the COVID-19 closure is in effect, MV Public Library will mail reading materials to patrons through Canada Post. Filipkowski said, “As our budget is limited, we’d prefer our patrons to use downloadable books if they can, but we’re happy to mail books to you. Call 613-756-2000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange to have materials mailed to you, using our Library Book Rate with Canada Post.” This is the same process that MV Library now uses to deal with about 600 items per year that used to arrive via the Inter-library loan van – a service axed by the provincial spending cuts last June. She adds, “Please do not return the books while we are closed. All fines are waived during this pandemic; just hang onto the books for now.”
One example of an expanded resource is Ancestry Library Edition which Library members can access free from home this month. Another is Tumble books whose downloadable titles for children, teens and adults are free until June. If you need help to access these, phone 613-756-2000 or email email@example.com
Getting the word out
Communicating with the public is a big priority. Craft activities for families using easy-to-find materials, suggested reading activities and online resources are promoted online through Facebook. Filipkowski responds to calls from many library patrons who do not have online access and are desperate for something to read, saying this demonstrates the importance of large print books for elderly or hearing-impaired patrons. She also sets up temporary accounts for new users who decided to join for downloadable books. Meanwhile, as library CEO she has the usual administrative work to do: filing the annual charitable return, applying for grants to ensure the future of the library, and managing the staff and the facility.
Library patrons left behind
People use MV Library for many reasons and Filipkowski admits, “I do worry about people right now applying online for a number of the initiatives that the government is putting out. Generally we get a lot of people in here who need help with that, or they need access to a computer to do it, or they need to print something out. I’m hoping that maybe they are getting some help through Service Ontario and Service Canada with that.”
Because the library is a community hub for many, Filipkowski and her colleagues also worry about “… some of the social isolation as well that comes with not being able to come into the building. Those things are tough. In contacting with other libraries in the county, those are the things that we worry about quite a bit.” Another result of library closure is that Filipkowski can’t invigilate exams for people upgrading their skills with online post-secondary courses.