As branches in the Thompson-Nicola Regional Library (TNRL) system look toward reopening, it’s “business as possible, not as usual,” according to head librarian Judy Moore. She also has exciting news about the Ashcroft branch, which will see planned renovations to the building’s interior go ahead later this year following input from the public about what they would like to see.
All TNRL branches closed in March due to COVID-19, but Moore says they are now moving toward gradual reopening. Last week the TNRL did a soft launch of its library takeout service, which is now available system-wide for everyone who had items on hold or who would like to request an item.
“We had staff contact patrons who had holds waiting for them,” says Moore. “They’ve been on library shelves since the middle of March, so we started calling patrons for those pick-ups.”
It’s not just items that had already been requested that can be picked up. “We’re expanding the service to include takeout along the same lines as what you’d have in a restaurant,” explains Moore. “You can ‘order up’ items you might like to read or view, and staff will tailor a selection of materials for patrons. If you’re a voracious mystery reader we’ll pull together a selection of mystery novels, or if you want good films or documentaries we’ll pull together some of those.”
Patrons simply need to contact their local branch by phone or email and make their request. When the item(s) are available, a notification will be sent, and patrons can schedule a time to drop by the branch and pick up their item(s), which will be packed and ready in a single-use paper bag.
Drop-offs have reopened at all branches, so that patrons can return materials, and Moore says that all returned items will be quarantined for 72 hours when they come back. “We’re using the same care and handling to ensure that patrons are safe to pick up items and drop them off, whether that’s in person or through drop boxes.”
While there are no immediate plans to bring patrons back into libraries, Moore says that the takeout service is another step towards that goal. In the meantime, the TNRL has greatly increased its digital offerings, which are available 24/7 through the website at www.tnrl.ca, and has made it possible for people to register for library cards online.
They are also offering virtual programming, including storytime every weekday at 10:30 a.m., which is available through the Thompson-Nicola Regional Library Facebook page. An online book group discussion has recently started, and there are plans to expand it.
“We started the book club through the Kamloops library as a test run to see what the uptake was like and make sure the technology was in place. We’ll have more information about expanding that on the website in the days and weeks to come.”
Looking ahead to reopening branches, Moore says that social distancing, and ensuring everyone is safe, will be key.
“We’re looking at things such as the number of people who can safely be in a particular-sized space, and plexiglass, and challenges around children. Right now we’re focusing on the takeout service, because we want to provide a really high-quality service in that regard while we carefully consider our next steps.”
The TNRL mobile library, which serves remote and outlying communities throughout the region, is parked for now, but patrons in those communities can order books by mail, and have items shipped to them. Modifications are also being made to the TNRL van so that it can function as a mini-mobile library, enabling people who normally use the mobile library to use the takeout service. It will follow the usual mobile library schedule until regular service can safely be resumed.
Moore is excited about upcoming changes to the interior of the Ashcroft Library, which were budgeted to take place in 2020 and will be going ahead as planned. She says that the intention is to start a public engagement process regarding the changes, which will be the first major alterations to the building’s interior since it was opened in August 1975.
It was the 10th library to open in what was then called the Thompson-Nicola Library System (the ninth branch had opened in the Oasis Plaza in Cache Creek on Dec. 13, 1974). An Ashcroft library had been located in various places over the years, including the second storey of the Ashcroft Journal building. In 1975 it was on the second floor of the Ashcroft Community Hall, and the Journal reported in December 1974 that while the new library was under construction, service would continue at that location under the supervision of Community Librarian Mary Reed and her staff, Colleen Mierau and Joan Sands, who were “actively engaged in developing increased services, in anticipation of the move to the new building.”
When the new branch was announced in 1974, the Journal noted that “A special feature of the building will be provision for multi-media services, namely, storage for film, cassettes, art prints, and models. It is expected that regular film programs and travel lectures will be a feature of the services sponsored by the new library.
“This is in line with the policy of the Board of Management, which emphasizes the importance of the library developing into a lively cultural and educational centre in the community.”
The original plans for the building, dated November 1974, show that there have been few changes to the building’s interior spaces in the intervening decades, although libraries have remained on the cutting edge when it comes to adapting to, and embracing, new forms of delivering services and materials. Moore says that the branch was identified in the TNRD’s Facilities Master Plan as one of the first libraries of its vintage.
“The exterior is sound — we’ve always done a great job of maintaining our libraries — but we think the time is nigh to make changes to the interior to bring it into step with modern library services.
“We want to engage the public in a multitude of different ways. We haven’t nailed down exactly what that will look like yet; we have some work to do. We’ve engaged the services of a librarian/architect to support us, and will want to fully engage the Ashcroft community in terms of what they want to see in their library and its space.”
The size of the library will not increase, and the program room — which is very well-used — will remain, but Moore says there is an opportunity to incorporate what is currently storage space and turn it into public services space. The large room at the southwestern corner of the building was originally the librarian’s office; when that moved closer to the front of the building the room morphed into storage space.
“We can now consider storage alternatives and open up the space for public use. It’s also an opportunity to replace the service desk, potentially enhance the children’s and adult reading spaces, make space for laptops with bar-type seating so people can bring in their own devices and use WiFi, and give a little bit of flavour and a better opportunity to merchandise new materials. We want flexibility to use the space in a better way for library programming.”
Moore says she’s looking forward to starting the engagement process, with mid-June as a target. In the meantime, the TNRL is considering how best to do that, perhaps with some online feedback as well as through phone calls. “We want to ensure that we capture everyone’s feedback, both current patrons and people who are not patrons: what would it take to engage them in the library?
“I’m really excited about the changes in Ashcroft. It was great to meet with community members at the community forum last fall, and we’d like to go forward with these changes, as well as some modifications to the exterior of the Clinton branch in short order, including barrier-free access and a ramp, as well as updating of the landscaping.”