Lit Column By Saara Itkonen, the chief librarian at the Creston Public Library
It’s been a strange summer at the library this year. In a normal year, the library would be filled with kids attending Summer Reading Club programs, pickers and travellers using wi-fi and the public computers, and community members stocking up on books and movies for their vacations. But, as we all know, this hasn’t been a normal year.
In order to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer we’ve opened our doors for four hours a day, four days a week, for browsing and borrowing of materials only. All the furniture and kids’ toys have been tucked away, and only a handful of computers are open with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer sitting beside them. A plexiglass shield greets you at our service desk and all our staff are wearing masks (a thin but effective barrier against any possible virus in the air).
It’s been a learning experience for us all, as I’m sure it has been for you as well. But here are some important things we have learned:
So many of our library patrons are truly kind and so thankful that the library is open at all. We’ve received so many lovely comments from patrons as we greet them at the door. We’ve even had patrons slip notes of thanks and encouragement through our book drop! The encouragement means so much to the library workers and volunteers who have had to adapt to extraordinary circumstances to maintain some of our core services.
We’ve been successfully hosting Family Storytime and some Summer Reading Club programs in the Lawrence Lavender Reading Garden where children can both interact and learn while maintaining safe social distancing. We are so thankful for our team of library volunteers who have made the garden both more beautiful and accessible than ever this year.
In addition, we’ve quarantined all handled and returned library materials for 72 hours to ensure that if the virus was present on a surface, it would not be transmitted to others. Last week, however, the BC Centre for Disease Control has now released guidelines for libraries that show that the possibility of transmission through surface contact is so low that quarantine is no longer necessary. So, you’ll be happy to know that we’ll be checking in items — and clearing them off your account — in 24 hours (we’re still being a little extra safe for you).
We’ve also learned how much you miss the services that we haven’t been able to continue providing. Meeting rooms, programming, iPads and crowded conversation inside the building! We miss all this too and, although we can’t safely reinstate all our services, here is what we’re working on for the Fall:
After Labour Day weekend we’ll be extending our opening hours to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. It’s an hour short of our regular, pre-COVID, hours, but that’s so library workers can provide the extra cleaning to keep you safe and give you peace of mind when you use our services.
At the moment, three public computers are available for use and we will be expanding to five computers as soon as proper safety barriers are in place. Photocopying and faxing services have returned and our public washrooms will be opening again (hooray!). Thank you to White & Clean for taking on extra cleaning services for us! And inter-library loans are back, which means you can run your book clubs again and borrow materials from participating libraries all over the province.
We know that everyone is feeling pandemic-fatigue. Our staff often get to hear about it from our patrons. It’s been especially hard for us at the library because everything our service model is based on — fostering community connections, sharing materials and knowledge, serving as a gathering place — is dangerous during a pandemic! It is difficult for our staff, who always want to help and serve, to have to say “no” to many of the services we used to provide pre-COVID-19.
So thank you all for your patience, for caring about the safety of your fellow community members, and for continuing to support your local library. We’ve served our community for 100 years (this was supposed to be our Centennial Celebration year!) and a pandemic isn’t about to make us stop now.