This week on the SLIC blog Karen Fraser, Executive Manager of Library Services at Shetland Library talks about reopening their doors and the changes the library service has made over the last few months.
Around 1,500 Shetlanders have visited the public library since we opened the doors again on July 21st. Last week we loaned 2,316 books across the service, which is not too far off pre-lockdown levels.
That doesn’t include eBook issues – they are still healthy enough, but at the moment people are loving the chance to borrow real books again, and their appreciation is huge.
Staff keep a bulging ‘thank you’ folder of notes from deliveries. It’s amazing how many folk take the time to express how pleased they are - not every service is lucky enough to get this kind of feedback, and it’s interesting that folk don’t take the library for granted.
We were surprised how few complaints there were about limited service during lockdown – people don’t always realise they have a right to a free library service. It can seem like a luxury - though we’d contend it is essential.
For our staff, feedback is a great boost - in the early days of our delivery service when they were ploughing through mountains of orders and returns, it was energising to find nice notes from customers. Once we opened the doors it was similarly rewarding – two Dads arrived with bairns in tow, exclaiming that ‘after the play park, this is what we’ve been most looking forward to!’
Someone else was queueing on the first day just for the sake of being back in – she didn’t even need any books. Another said ‘this is the first thing that’s made me feel like things really might get back to normal’.
People took the safety measures in their stride as they are very used to them now – the benefit of having to come back gradually from lockdown means that you all get used to behaving in ways we’d never have imagined back in March. Some people are still nervous of course, but we are also continuing with deliveries and ‘Connect and Collect’ which requires minimal contact.
In the Library we have avoided one way systems as the building doesn’t lend itself to that - and it is also simply not the way people browse books. We removed some seating but we assessed the risks and decided with good distancing and spot cleaning there is no reason people shouldn’t stop awhile to sit or study. It has made our staff so happy to see regulars come back, and to some extent be able to do the things they used to – even grab a very quick cat nap in a chair.
We all see examples of good practice when we are out and about - for example cafes which feel very safe and well organised but still give a warm welcome and good service. That is what we are aiming for. Although online services, support phone calls and all the other things we did in the early days of lockdown were great, it was no substitute for that safe space, that shelter and support the library provides.
It meant a great deal to our regulars in particular to get back on computers – we managed to help a bit during lockdown with phone assistance and sourcing devices, but it wasn’t a substitute. In our learning centre we have good distancing and safety measures in place, including ‘swapping over’ the keyboards and mice each day so we can quarantine them. Having fewer computers in use means we have more spare keyboards! We can’t do proper one-to-one help yet, but we can help a little with things people are stuck with.
Work is labour intensive, staff timetabling complicated, communication can be difficult especially for the hard of hearing, and sometimes of course there are anxieties. Staff are so happy to be back though, and we are finding that even behind the scenes they are keeping up good COVID-safe practice and require very little nagging. This is a big change for a staff group that likes to socialise together and we miss not being able to just sit together for a tea break - but we still find ways to have fun.
Being open again and projecting a positive image leads to lots of opportunities to promote the service. For example, we made a #SuperSheltie guide to the library and ‘the other super shelties’ - some remarkable canine celebrities - came in for a photo shoot.
We have now got to a point where our public library is open every afternoon, our school libraries are all open, and our delivery system is pretty well covering all the mobile customers and more besides. There have been so many big changes so quickly over the past few months that we are now slowing, taking stock and consulting customers before – we hope – we can expand the service a bit more. We are having our first post-lockdown book launch on October 1st, though we are opting for online. We are also doing online Bookbug and storytimes but we are really aware folk are aching to get back to real events – screen time has long lost its novelty.
Of course everyone is nervous, in Shetland as everywhere else, about keeping the virus under control. Therefore we are never relaxed enough to feel secure. If further lockdowns occur we know we can ‘roll back’ the service to a more basic level - perhaps to Connect and Collect, or even back to just deliveries. We have changed a lot and learned a lot in this time including a lot of flexibility and resilience. However the one thing that has not changed is the passion and enthusiasm of our staff to provide the best possible service.