Cathy Simpson is working four days a week, from home, and is busier than ever.
The chief librarian and CEO of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library says she’s surprised at how much work there is to do, and how quickly the days fly by.
At the moment, the main focus of her attention is looking at how the library can safely re-open when
the Town, and Province, permit.
The library closed March 13, and since early April, student pages and three frontline staff members have been laid off.
Two library full-time staff members were temporarily laid off last week: Debbie Krause, the community engagement coordinator, and Sarah Bowers, the local history and cataloguing technician — both of whom have duties that cover more than their titles suggest.
The remaining full-time staff have had their hours and pay reduced to four days a week, “including me,” says Simpson.
“There is still lots to do,” she adds. “There is so much planning going into re-opening,” which she is hopeful could occur July 2, although in a limited way.
The library, which has been rebranded as a “community hub” in the last decade, has offered so much more than book-lending, says Simpson, and has continued during its closure to provide a number of online services, such as ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines, language learning programs and ancestry.com, as well as activities for kids and adults. For example, says Simpson, there are chess tournaments for both.
The weekly schedule on Facebook shows a variety of programming. One popular event is Ask Me Anything, Wednesdays from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Each week it features a different guest host who showcases their talent, taking questions and answering them in a real-time chat. This week, May 6, is local musician Steve Goldberger, with Barbara Worthy, actress, writer and historian, next week.
Simpson says the library is looking for volunteers who have a talent they’d like to share and stories to tell. She encourages anyone interested to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another popular online event is Tuesday Trivia. To access the game, which starts at 7:30 p.m., people need to enter crowd.live on their phone, tablet or laptop — no app needed. They will then be prompted to enter a code, which is posted on the library’s Facebook page and website every week.
There is also a kids’ trivia game Mondays at 2 p.m., which works in the same way.
For a schedule and more information about ongoing online library programs, for adults and kids, visit
As popular as the online programs are, Simpson is anxious to have the doors open at the library. Once she has a date, staff will be going in ahead of time to prepare, and after opening, hours will be limited at first.
Furniture will be removed, to discourage people from sitting, and shelves may be moved to make physical distancing easier.
Simpson says she is also considering specific times for the vulnerable populations.
Another change may be a curbside service for book returns, to ensure books are quarantined before they go back on the shelves.
To share ideas, she has attended regular meetings on Zoom with other library heads from around the region, discussing their plans for re-opening.
“It’s nice to see their faces — you don’t feel so isolated,” she says.
They’re paying attention to what is happening internationally and in the U.S., and will be watching what libraries in other provinces do as they open.
“We’ll have to get creative, and there are some things we won’t be able do do for a while.”
However, the library has always managed to remain relevant, did its best to continue through the pandemic, and will be again in the future, she says.
One of the services offered during the closure, primarily by volunteers, is a phone check-in service with members. The volunteers have learned there are many seniors, and some who aren’t, who are not online, either through lack of knowledge, or lack of technology.
The calls, Simpson says, have been very much appreciated by the recipients. “A lot of them are saying they are finding this very difficult. There’s a certain demographic that is feeling very isolated. That’s something we want to address when we re-open.”
Summer students will be coming back to the library, and may stay longer into the fall, and it may be an opportunity to encourage people to get online, with technical tutoring, and if necessary, loaning out the technology that’s needed, says Simpson.
“We could also load up tablets and other devices with content that people could take home with them.”
Being online is becoming a necessity, she adds. “We hope we can help with that. We need to serve everyone, all ages and all demographics.”