This week on the SLIC blog Helen Stevenson, Venue Manager at Kirkcaldy Galleries chats about working through lockdown and the reopening of OnFife libraries.


It’s Wednesday July 15th, 10am at Kirkcaldy Galleries, the sun is shining and it’s the first day that OnFife Libraries can open again and we’re ready! 

It was with a hearty dose of excited anticipation that we opened our doors to the first reader keen to get books and we couldn’t wait to welcome our public back to reading heaven.

During lockdown we had expanded our Facebook activity, creating a brand new LibrarYAY group for families, and bought loads more eBooks. There was a big increase in people joining the library through our online form too. Our libraries staff had adapted to this new normal rapidly and with gusto, creating lots of excellent virtual content including Bookbug and Storytelling sessions, Crafts and Code Clubs - all created from home on iPads and phones. We even read aloud the whole of The Picture of Dorian Gray on Facebook a chapter at a time. But we were all really anxious to get back into our libraries. We’d surveyed our users to see how they felt and they were also keen to get back which was great to hear.

Connecting with Members

One of my Library Assistants, Niamh Logie, took to video, reaching out to all our communities on Facebook and Twitter, spreading the word regarding our initial Connect and Collect service on offer at 25 of our libraries. Readers were encouraged to call us or complete their form online, where they were asked: “What kind of books do you like to read?  How many do you want?”  The uptake was fantastic: “I prefer historical fiction”, “I prefer a good murder” – their preferences were music to our ears... and the feedback from our customers was so positive, a real joy for us to hear. We had missed our readers and they had missed us.

At Kirkcaldy Galleries we lovingly made up 283 Connect and Collect bags for our book lovers (a total of 3663 bags were made up across all the branches open in just three weeks). Readers were delighted to return books and pick up their new ‘lucky dip’ bag of books. The service was so well received, some customers really loved the idea of these mystery book bags, with regular readers discovering new authors. A customer was quoted saying: “I found the service to be a very positive and easy experience. I loved the book selection that was picked for me, it was great to discover some new authors that maybe I wouldn’t have chosen”.   

And our teams were delighted to be back at work and among our books and bookshelves, doing the job they love. One team member, Carole Finlay, said: “Coming back to work in our building felt like coming home”.  It was a real opportunity to engage with our reading community and our work colleagues but doing so in a way that all protective measures were in place, fully in line with the latest Scottish Government and public health advice.

Next Phase for Fife

Library Staff at Kirkcaldy Galleries post lockdownThe next phase on our route planner to “normality”, has been Limited Browsing meaning OnFife Libraries are really back! From Wednesday 5th August, 23 of our branches opened their doors wide and welcomed their public back into the world of books, computer usage, hearing aid batteries and photocopying.

We are only allowing a limited number of people into our building at one time and the layout is a bit different. We are wearing face coverings and keeping visits short, to around 15 minutes. Some folks crossed our doors cautiously, others danced their way through Test and Protect forms, hand sanitisation, face coverings and a brief conversation regarding our safety protocols. They wanted to return books, browse the shelves, select their own books and spend a few minutes chatting with our library assistants, just like before.

It was quickly noted by many team members how much our library communities had missed us, not only for our books but for the social engagement and wellbeing aspect libraries offer. During lockdown we had kept in touch with our older readers by phone, and the calls and the other communication they had received via local newspaper articles, our website and social media platforms were greatly appreciated.

We spent a lot of time working with our teams to make sure they were comfortable coming back to work well in advance of the reopening day and the pace we chose allowed us to welcome people back in a gradual, cautious but reassuring way. This gave the public and our team members the confidence to embrace going forward.

Overall, staying connected to our readers and communities showed us that library services are far more than their buildings. And there is a consensus within our teams that new ideas will continue to be brainstormed to support inclusion for all, whether that’s in a building or a virtual offering.