Like so many businesses and organizations in town, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library staff have transitioned to serving patrons through a pandemic, learning some valuable lessons for the future along the way.
Although the building is closed, books can still be borrowed, and many library programs continue, with new ones added, says program coordinator Debbie Krause.
Checking out the library calendar shows a busy schedule of virtual programming, targeting all ages, from toddlers and teens to adults, from learning about the brain and mental health issues, to enjoying trivia and game nights.
And similar to other organizations, virtual programming will carry on after the pandemic, allowing the library to offer better access to more people, says Krause.
Since the province went into lockdown in December and the library was closed to the public for the second time, book pickups curbside have continued to be available.
The same goes for book bundles for kids and adults. Kids’ books are offered in bundles of 10, aimed at several different age groups, and for adults, five books can be included in a surprise package, or can be requested in various themes.
Reciprocal borrowing from other libraries is also ongoing, and has become pretty popular, says Krause. Currently, a staff member picks up and drops off several cartons of books at the Pelham Public Library weekly, the central location for the project, but a more sustainable solution is being discussed with other libraries in the Niagara libraries cooperative.
All book-borrowing programs are available online, or by phone — leave a message and a staff member will get back to you.
There are some patrons who can’t get out to pick up their books, says Krause, and in the past the library has relied on volunteers to offer a delivery service. During the pandemic, she has taken over the task of dropping off books and picking them up three weeks later, rather than offering it as part of a volunteer program, as it was pre-COVID. There aren’t a lot of members who require that service, but it ensures everybody who wants to borrow books is able to, she says. Some of those people are members who were receiving their books from lockers in St. Davids and Virgil, which are closed, partly because the buildings are now closed to the public, but also due to the inability to sanitize the lockers.
After a break of most virtual programs over Christmas, the library has been ramping up again with its offerings, although the very popular Tuesday Night Trivia has been going non-stop, says Krause. It continues to increase in popularity, with more new people joining in weekly. “We mostly see names we don’t recognize, which is great. It means we’re really reaching out into the community, and that’s good to see.”
In addition, other trivia contests are offered, with themed every-other-Friday evening programs for adults who might be interested in a particular topic. This Friday, Feb. 26, is a Period Drama theme, and Seinfeld trivia is on offer March 12.
As well, the library is trying the occasional trivia program for families, says Krause.
Teen game nights are also being organized, the next one Thursday, March 4, using Skribblio, and Jackbox, which provide online games for groups.
Other programs include Dr. Bill Brown, with a series on the brain Wednesday afternoons through March, and something new March 11, Dishin’ with Dirt, a gardening workshop with library board member Betty Knight.
With limited attendance for the Zoom meeting, registration is required for the workshop, which will offer information about getting gardens ready for the planting season, including a discussion about soil, mulching, garden tools, and pruning.
The popular Beer and Books and Wine and Words programs are on hold, but an online book club has developed instead. Called the Fireside Reads Book Club, it was slow to transition from Beer and Books, but registration is almost full for the March 3 session, when the next Zoom discussion focuses on The Bell in the Lake, by Lars Mytting.
“The first time we offered the book club online, we had one person sign up,” says Krause. “Now, because of the logistics of a Zoom meeting, we’re limiting it to eight.”
It’s taken some time for some library patrons to become comfortable with virtual discussions, says Krause, who understands that feeling — it took her a while to become accustomed to the idea of leading an online meeting. But people are using them more often and becoming more accepting of them, and are being patient when all does not go according to plan, which is appreciated, she says, “because no matter how well the programs are planned ahead of time, they can still go sideways.”
But there is no doubt, while many people are looking forward to being able to meet in person, “there will always be a virtual component to what we offer. It adds that extra level of accessibility.”
It allows people who can’t get to the library to take part in the programs, from those with young kids at home, to the elderly, and those who just feel more comfortable participating from home.
Library staff have learned how easy it is to present virtual programming, and because of the pandemic, the library has had to invest in the technology that was required to offer it.
“It’s become second nature, and I think it will stay that way,” Krause says. “It will just be part of our programs in the future.”
The one age group virtual programming is not well-suited for is the youngest set of library patrons. A weekly Tuesday morning Rhyme Time for moms and toddlers on Zoom hasn’t been a great success, says Krause. “Kids that age don’t sit still, and it was pretty chaotic.”
The sessions are held as circle time, with interactive singing, rhyming, and shared storytime. Kids would be going in and out of the screen, and it was hard to hold their attention, she says.
Although that doesn’t matter, moms would leave the meeting, fearing they were interrupting it for others.
Krause now has a limited number of children who take part, including one family with siblings who participate weekly, and have come to know her and enjoy the sessions.
“From working with them regularly I’ve developed a good relationship with the kids, and they’ve stuck it out. They look forward to seeing me and I look forward to seeing them. It takes a while to build that kind of relationship, and it’s hard to do on a screen, but it’s working.”
Krause has two new upcoming virtual offerings she’s excited about.
One has to wait until she is able to have Burlington author Ian Hamilton in the library building, to host an online session from there. It was planned for January, but had to be cancelled when the second shutdown was announced.
The author, popular for the Ava Lee series and other standalone books, will draw a virtual crowd when the date is set, she says.
But perhaps what is exciting Krause the most about upcoming library offerings is The Big Let Go, a series of four mental health workshops to be held throughout April by author Darcy Patrick.
Based on his book by the same name, Patrick, also a public speaker and wellness writing coach, recognizes that when people tell us to let something go, it’s not that simple. His goal is to teach how to let go and move on to live a full and happy life, sharing his tools to get us there, including forgiveness, setting boundaries, acceptance, changing perspectives, and having faith in ourselves.
“He’s been on our radar for a long time,” says Krause. “He was scheduled to come last spring, and had to be cancelled. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that mental health is a very, very important part of our well-being, in addition to our physical and economic situations. Mental health needs to be something we talk about. We’re all in COVID fatigue, and that makes us less able to cope with the hard stuff we’re facing.”
Patrick’s workshops may be timely, in that his advice on how to let go of things we can’t control could be more important now than ever, adds Krause.
Register for the first workshop, Thursday, April 8 from 7 to 9 p.m., and you will be registered for the other three dates as well.
Program registrations can be done online at https://notlpubliclibrary.org.
For more information call 905-468-2023.