By Saara Itkonen, chief librarian at the Creston Valley Public Library
October is National Library Month. In addition to an official proclamation – with a coat of arms and the Queen and everything – Josie Osborne, the Minister for Municipal Affairs, who also also oversees the Public Libraries Branch, said the following:
“Libraries are unique and welcoming community spaces where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather, explore interests and develop lifelong skills. Throughout the pandemic, libraries have continued to be important places of refuge both online and in person, where a good book, a friendly ear, and a link to the community has made a big difference in people’s lives.”
It’s an important acknowledgement for those of us who work in libraries. As I’ve mentioned in this column before, the pandemic has been particularly hard for library workers. We continue to keep our doors open (except when safety requires us to pivot to curbside pickup), we keep the lights on and the books stocked on the shelves, we assist with technology troubleshooting and filling out of government forms, we patiently listen to COVID worries and the occasional tantrum. We’ve continued to do all of this, as well as adding to our online services, without the added joy we’ve previously experienced when interacting freely in person with our community members.
As a library director, I’ve essentially lost half my job during this pandemic – the half where I spent time working directly with our community partners, organizations, individuals to look for ways to reduce barriers to library service and collaborating to develop new programs, collections ,and services. Instead, I’m supporting my staff to pivot weekly to health protocols, I’m writing reams of procedures and policies, and filling out government forms. Administration is always part of a library director’s job, but the pandemic has made it most of my job, and that makes me sad.
Our library staff have had it even harder. They have to continually bother people about putting on masks, about wearing them properly (FYI, if it’s not covering your nose it’s not doing anything), apologizing for not being able to allow patrons unlimited computer time, patiently explaining why services are unavailable this week when they were available last week, doing extra wiping down of surfaces throughout our building, and now even helping people sign up for their proof-of-vaccination. All while maintaining patience and professionalism and always seeking how to better support and further assist our community members.
I don’t say all this to whinge and whine and wallow in our misfortune. We’re all dealing with stress during this pandemic and public library workers are experienced and passionate about serving their communities. We wouldn’t do this job if we weren’t. But if ever there was a time to make our library workers feel valued, important, and cared for, this year’s National Library Month would be it.
Has the public library provided service to you in your life? Have you read a particularly entertaining book or watched a movie that made you forget about COVID numbers for a minute? Maybe you could take a moment to pop into our library branch and write a short note of support on our Library Month wall display (see picture). If you don’t have time to stop by, a comment on our Facebook page or a message, email, or card would also be very welcome at this time.
And if you’re feeling especially thankful, consider making a donation to support library operating costs. We accept donations in person and also have an online donate button on our website – crestonlibrary.com. Perhaps you have time to write to our local MLA Brittny Anderson and ask the provincial government to increase funding to all the public libraries, which has remained the exact same amount since 2009.
Let’s take time this October to thank our library workers for their continued work to support our community and give them a healthy morale boost to keep going until this pandemic is far behind us.
And Happy National Library Month! We thank you for your continued to support for public libraries.