B.C.’s road to recovery: Libraries set for phased return to lending

Curbside pickup, digital options and a slow return to reopening buildings

The reopening or re-imagining of B.C.’s libraries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic could take up to two years, but immediate access to services will be phased in with some tweaks to how services have normally been provided.

The primary aim in all of the plans, which have no set dates, is to ensure patrons and staff are safe, Association of British Columbia Public Library Directors chairman Scott Hargrove said.

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And, while Hargrove’s association deals with the province’s 69 public libraries, B.C.’s universities say they are also working to ensure health and safety is paramount.

Public libraries are included in the Phase 2 resumption of services outlined Wednesday in the provincial government’s plan to restart B.C.’s economy. Phase 2 is scheduled to begin in mid-May.

The first part of phased-in reopening of libraries involves public-system patrons using curbside pickup of materials.

Hargrove said people would place holds on materials and arrive at their branch when the requested items are ready. Patrons would have to step back as staff deliver the requested material outside.

“It’s the No. 1 request we’ve had from our customers,” Hargrove said, noting holds on materials are currently double the usual number.

Indeed, that’s what the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) is experiencing.

“We are developing plans as to how we can bring back some limited access to our physical collections,” said Scott Fraser,  the VPL’s manager of marketing and communications. “Some other library system are working on some models for curb-side pickup, and other physical distancing procedures that we are studying and seeing if we can adapt them for VPL.”

How things proceed after that phase is dependent on where a library is located to provide for safety and physical distancing in line with provincial health protocols. Some are inside recreation facilities, a location that does not lend itself to such protocols.

Moving forward, the issue becomes one of quarantining returned materials and sanitizing books. There, libraries are using guidances from the province, WorkSafeBC, the BC Centre for Disease Control and the International Federation of Library Associations, Hargrove said.

An important consideration for letting people back into libraries as a next step takes into account that many use library computers for internet connections.

“This is a key component to a pretty important demographic,” Hargrove said.

A primary consideration here is ongoing cleaning of keyboards and mice.

“We are also working right now to find ways of bringing back some public computers for those that otherwise have no access,” Fraser said, noting there is no opening date.

Phone support and email access to services are also being re-imagined.

The third phase involves potential redesigning of the way libraries operate physically. Fraser said that depends on building size and square footage.

Librarians are having to consider the impacts of patrons being able to browse bookshelves.

Hargrove, CEO of the Fraser Valley Public Library, said the pandemic has brought to light the demand for virtual programs – particularly story times to youngsters.

“There’s a huge demand out there,” Hargrove said.

A return to in-person programming, possibly on a smaller scale than the past, would be part of the fourth phase, work that could put plans into 2021.

As well, plans for digital libraries have been accelerated, Hargrove said. So, too, has the creation of library cards for digital services.

“What we’re all hoping for is the [COVID-19] vaccine.” •

This story is part of a series on the next steps for B.C. businesses across a wide range of sectors as the province edges closer to the easing of COVID-19 safety measures. Check out all previous stories in this series, and stay tuned for further stories being published throughout this week.

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