Hamilton

Friendly calls from library staff create special connection with seniors during COVID-19

The calls began as a way to help older members navigate the Hamilton Public Library's online offerings, but for many it became something more — a friendly voice and link to the rest of the world as everything around them seemed to be shutting down.

'When you phoned them they were in their glory,' said Sue Leger

Sue Leger was one of the Hamilton Public Library staff members who started calling older cardholders during the pandemic. She says she got as much out of the conversations as those she spoke to. (Supplied by Hamilton Public Library)

As COVID-19 closed library branches across Hamilton, staff members started picking up the phone and connecting with seniors in a new way.

The calls began as a way to help older cardholders access the Hamilton Public Library's (HPL) online offerings, but for many it became something more — a friendly voice and link to the rest of the world as everything around them seemed to be shutting down.

"When you phoned them they were in their glory," said Sue Leger, who typically provides clerical support.

"Sometimes it was strictly the fact talking to another human being was amazing."

The callers contacted those with electronic devices as well as those without. Conversations happened weekly or monthly, depending on the interest level of the person picking up.

"People talked about knitting patterns, we connected with members who used to work at the library and they told us how the library used to serve during previous flu epidemics and things like that," said Lisa Radha Weaver, director of collections and program development for HPL.

"They would end up talking about appointments that were being missed, celebrations that were being missed, changes in the weather, stories about ... war time periods that these members had lived through."

Writing notes to keep tabs

Leger is a self-described "people person" and said she was struggling with the quiet of being cooped up at home because of the virus.

She was excited to start calling, but said the first few people she dialled up were a bit confused when she nervously started reading from her script.

"They at first thought I was a tape recorder," she said with a laugh.

Once she got a bit more comfortable, Leger said she managed to loosen up and conversation started to flow.

"They were very receptive of it. They thought it was amazing and I do too."

Leger said she ended up speaking somewhat regularly with roughly 30 people.

In order to keep everyone straight, she started writing herself notes during each call so she could ask them things like how their family was doing or how that Zoom with the grandkids went.

Lisa Radha Weaver is the director of collections and program development for the Hamilton Public Library. (Supplied by Hamilton Public Library)

Weaver described the friendly calls as a "whole new twist to member services," adding the way members welcomed staff into their homes was "gracious and humbling."

It meant a lot to staff, too.

"As much as the public missed the library, equally, or possibly even more, the staff missed their members," she said.

A rewarding experience

More-traditional library business was also covered off during the calls.

Leger said some seniors were concerned about not being able to return borrowed material, but relieved to find out late fees had been waived during the first wave.

Staff also walked them through how to find newspaper, music, e-books and even movies online.

"I think it was amazing how the older generation were ready to learn how to go into the online site," she said. "They wanted to learn. They had no idea how much we offered."

All HPL branches have since reopened. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Follow up calls revealed how excited they were to discover the digital options and the joy they felt at mastering the website.

All library branches are open again and Leger is back at work with her colleagues, but says she still thinks about the cardholders she connected with.

"It was just as rewarding for me as it was for the people you call because I so enjoyed the contact that I was missing through COVID," she said.

"You felt like you really accomplished something rewarding for the day." 

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