How public libraries are helping Nova Scotians — even with their doors closed
From a bookmobile to loaning out tablets, libraries still have a presence
While the doors of South Shore Public Libraries are closed, the doors on the library's bookmobile are open.
People may have seen a teal and navy bus rolling through communities in southern Nova Scotia this week, carrying dozens of books to be picked up while still keeping people a safe distance apart.
"We're more than just some reading material," said Troy Myers, chief librarian of South Shore Public Libraries. "So we want to do what we can to make sure those social connections are maintained."
Either by phone or online, patrons make a request for books. Staff make sure the items are sanitized, sealed and only handled with gloves.
The bookmobile makes a stop for two hours in each location. The books are placed on a trolley, so there's no contact between staff and people picking up their items.
This is just one of many ways public libraries in the province are continuing to help their communities, even with the closures related to COVID-19.
"This public library belongs to all of us," said Åsa Kachan, chief librarian and CEO of Halifax Public Libraries.
Kachan said one of the first things they did after closing was loan tablets, gaming systems and board games to a youth home in Halifax.
"They contacted us and said, 'We have young people who are used to have some ability to roam through the day who aren't roaming anymore,'" Kachan said.
From e-books to learning a new language
Every day, library staff are adding new titles and more copies of e-books and audiobooks to their online collection, as well as offering access to systems like Rocket Languages, which teaches more than a dozen different languages.
Kachan said Halifax Public Libraries has also negotiated to have PressReader, a digital newsstand with free access to 7,000 newspapers around the world, available to patrons remotely.
"Those daily newspapers from around the world come in a range of languages. So our newcomer community will be able to check in with what's happening at home," Kachan said.
This week, Halifax Public Libraries is also rolling out a streaming services with over 30,000 films.
"People have been asking for that for many years, and we've been working toward launching it and we fast-tracked that to get that out. Because we know our community needs that more than ever," Kachan said.
Some libraries are curating lists of online resources, such as videos and activities that appeal to children.
"We're trying to make it easy for families to find some ways to help keep their kids entertained because they're home when they're usually in school," said Angela Reynolds, community engagement co-ordinator for Annapolis Valley Regional Libraries.
Other libraries are even offering virtual programming. In Cape Breton, staff are using social media to read stories, sing songs, put on puppet shows and teach crafts while working from home.
"It's new territory for us, so there is a bit of a learning curve with technology there," said Lisa Mulak, regional librarian with Cape Breton Regional Library.
But accessing online resources isn't an option for every Nova Scotians. Mulak said every public library in the province has left its internet on so people are able to swing by to use it from the outside.
Myers said that digital divide was part of the reason for creating the bookmobile.
"We have folks that are considered most vulnerable. A quick example of that are seniors who are home-bound and require those reading materials or they're not tech savvy and can't download our e-books," Myers said.
South Shore Public Libraries has also been helping people with government documents if they are unable to scan and send forms themselves.
In Cape Breton, they've even set up a phone line for people who have questions or need help.
"We're willing to take any questions at all on that phone line. It doesn't have to be just downloading books," Mulak said.
"It could be, 'Can you help me get in touch with a government resource?' Or sifting through all that information that's out there right now. Because librarians have been trained for eons to answer those questions."
Mulak also encourages any of their regular patrons who just want to reach out and have a chat to call.
"We recognize that these are challenging times and it's not easy," she said.
'The library misses them too'
Reynolds said in Annapolis Valley, they hear from people daily about how much they miss the libraries.
"They miss having the materials for sure, but they miss seeing people in the library. They miss coming there and having that social thing," she said.
"Some people have relationships with the library staff and it may be the only person they talk to every week. And that's really hard for us."
Reynolds said they were hoping to be open sometime soon, but now that looks unlikely, so they're continuing to find ways they can engage with people in their area.
"I actually just had a conversation with another staff branch manager who said, 'I want to call people, I want to read stories to kids over the phone, whatever I can do.' It's in the backs of our minds," she said.
"The library misses them too."