This week Library Supervisor Janice Bourelle from Culture Perth & Kinross talks about their post lockdown experience and the changes COVID19 has brought to their service.

 

AK Bell Library staff outside the library on the first day back after lockdown.Emerging out of lockdown, our library staff have had to get used to new ways of working. With the huge emphasis on ensuring that books are quarantined for 72 hours to make them safe, the daily donning of PPE and the regular sanitising of hard surfaces and devices, it could be easy for our staff to lose sight of the bigger picture. Yet this has not been the case. Because of the huge efforts of our operations team, staff adherence to guidelines and their willingness to be flexible, our libraries are re-opening safely and positively in this present crisis.

To have our libraries open again (albeit with restricted hours) is so important for both customers and staff.

Libraries have long been considered invaluable, offering free educational tools to encourage lifelong learning, discovery and reading for pleasure. But we all know that they offer so much more. The re-opening of our libraries has highlighted this. 

Yes, our libraries are seats of learning and discovery, but they also offer a safe haven; for young and old alike. As our doors begin to open, familiar faces walk through them. For some of these people, we are the providers of positive social interaction and acceptance that they may struggle to receive elsewhere. Libraries are inclusive, staff are welcoming and caring.

I have been given the opportunity these last few weeks to work with different teams in different libraries. I have witnessed first-hand the high-quality care and attention that our customers receive. Our ‘regulars’ are known by name. Our customers are made to feel an integral part of our service, which they are. They in turn see us as an invaluable part of their lives.

A Phyiscal and Digital Offer

A library worker at AK Bell library in Perth packs Click & Collect orders.It goes without saying that our core offer of access to free books cannot be underestimated. This accessibility provides a lifeline to many. Our customers have been so excited to be ‘let loose’ into our libraries again. We had been missed. All the hand-sanitising, mask-wearing and form filling has not detracted from their experience. 

Being able to offer access to computers again can also provide a lifeline. One young couple was sleeping rough in their car and needed online access to fill out the appropriate forms to secure accommodation. Another young mother needed online access to apply for Universal Credit as she had no money to live on. These situations are heart-breaking to witness but it reminds us that we are offering a vital service, that we can offer real support to people in difficult times.

Our click and collect service has also proven to be popular. One lady said that it was a “spot on service, better than Amazon.” Our teams involved with this have worked tirelessly to provide a seamless service. This can be challenging as everyone is having to adapt to new ways of working.

And therein lies the crux. Adaptability. Whether we are a customer or a member of staff we all realise that nothing is set in stone. No change is permanent in today’s climate. Library staff have long been aware of the need to be adaptable, to increase the library offer, to make the library more relevant and accessible in an ever changing and expanding world. This is no more so than now.

Regardless of where this all takes us, it is good to reflect on the fact that, for many, we are a light in an otherwise dark world. We provide a ‘normal’ in an otherwise abnormal situation. We are the bastions of  inclusivity. We are the educators, the carers, and the nurturers. We have been around for a very long time and we should certainly plan to be around for a very long time to come. Our communities need us, and we, most definitely, need them.