After being closed to the public since March, all branches in the Thompson-Nicola Regional Library (TNRL) system are getting ready to reopen and resume offering most normal services, albeit with a few changes that make safety a top priority.
“Starting mid-month patrons can come back into libraries to pick up holds, browse, check out materials, and use public computers on a limited basis,” says TNRL Head Librarian Judy Moore.
“We’ll be discouraging longer visits; they’ll probably be limited to no longer than one hour. People won’t have a place to sit down and read books and newspapers or study when the branches reopen, and in most cases we will reduce the number of public Internet stations to ensure adequate physical distancing.
“Also, for safety reasons we’ve put maximum occupancy numbers in place, so that people can maintain their physical distance. The science says that’s important: keep that distance.”
For the time being, the total number of staff and patrons allowed inside the Ashcroft branch at one time will be six, with the Cache Creek and Clinton branches limited to four people at a time. “We’ll revisit this, but that’s what we’re going to start with,” says Moore.
To support the most vulnerable citizens, branches will be setting aside unimpeded time for seniors.
“We’re looking at the first part of the day for reserving a bit of time for seniors and our most vulnerable people so they have time to come in,” says Moore. “We anticipate that we’ll be close to regular opening hours when branches reopen.
“Another thing we’re going to do is provide computer access for patrons for about 45 minutes maximum. That will be on a first come, first served basis, but one size doesn’t fit all, so patrons might be required to reserve. People will not be invited to study, have meetings, or have prolonged visits to the library at this time. We will be offering programming, but it will be all digital for the time being.”
During the library closure, staff focused on improving access to the TNRL’s digital collections, providing regular virtual programs, creating more content through the library’s blog, resuming service for the mobile library and Kamloops home service patrons, and initiating a new Library Takeout service, which Moore says has been a huge success.
“We kind of modelled [the takeout service] on the restaurant industry and how most if not all restaurants went to takeout. We thought that in the absence of being able to open the doors, patrons would appreciate either getting hold items or placing orders for items that would be gathered for them.
“One manager reported we had our biggest day ever in Kamloops with 100 pickups in one day. I believe takeout is here to stay.”
Moore notes that COVID-19 has accelerated a lot of things the TNRL was already thinking about. “We want to minimize any sort of contact and streamline things as much as possible, so we’re moving toward a cashless system. Every patron who has a library card has an account with the library, and if people come in wanting photocopying, etc. we would add [that charge] to their account, so they wouldn’t necessarily need to pay right away. It’s another way of mitigating contact, and it’s also a convenience.”
Digitally, the TNRL now lets people get library cards online, and they can access online and e-items, as well as access the takeout service by calling or emailing their branch. Another new development is the provision of free WiFi outside each branch.
“Accessing WiFi outside our branches hasn’t always been a thing, and was limited before,” says Moore. “We threw it open for all our locations 24/7 and it’s something we’re going to evaluate. For many patrons we are their connection. It’s not something we’re considering rolling back at this time, and I suspect it will continue for some time. People will want like never before to use the library the way they want to use the library.”
In-person programs for children, teens, and adults will remain suspended at all branches until further notice, but digital programming — including the Summer Reading Clubs — will continue through the summer, with outdoor “safe programming” on the horizon. No changes to the mobile library service are anticipated, apart from patrons not being able to go into the vehicle and browse.
“It’s such a recognizable vehicle,” says Moore. “It’s gaining in popularity, and it’s important to have it out on the road.”
She adds that even with the challenge of COVID-19, staff are working to ensure that library services expand for the people of the TNRD. “If you haven’t used the library in some time you might be surprised at what they have to offer.”