Library continued behind the scenes

Ken Kellar

They may not have been open to the public for the past few months, but the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre has been hard at work behind the scenes.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns, the staff at the Fort Frances Library have continued to work both from home and at the library building in order to continue serving their patrons and members of the public.

At last week’s town council meeting, library CEO Joan MacLean and library board chair Robin Dennis provided an update on what the library has been doing over the past months both to serve the public and improve its own offerings.

“It has been a very busy and ever-changing year,” Dennis told council.

“The library board and staff are a very dedicated group of people who work hard to keep the library services available to our patrons. this year marks our tenth anniversary in the new building and we look forward to many more learning and growing opportunities within the library to carry us forward into the future.”

Additionally, Dennis noted the library will be adding access to a database of learning materials to better equip people in town with skills that can be put towards their careers, helping to bolster the local economy.

“Some of you may have read in a recent Globe and Mail article about how libraries have a role to play in restoring the economy,” she said.

“Our library is equipped to fulfill this mandate. The library has always helped reach the digital divide by providing access to public computers to revamp resumes, conduct job searches and provide access to skills.”

MacLean explained to council that since the pandemic forced the library building to close to the public, staff have been working on bettering programs already in place at the library, as well as implementing new ideas.

“An inventory of the entire collection was completed by Duane Hicks who joined our staff just days before the closure,” MacLean said.

“On the days that Duane was not in the library working on the inventory, he was part of our new social media team. Social media postings to advertise our virtual collection and online resources was the entire focus of the early part of the COVID-19 shutdown. Due to the efforts of the entire social media team, we gained 157 new Facebook followers, resurrected our Instagram and boosted our followers of both Instagram and Twitter.”

The ever-popular offerings of the children’s department also saw a move online due to COVID restrictions, with the library’s Miss Sam Manty filming and posting regular Story Time videos to Facebook every week, which MacLean said was a big success.

“Always one of our most popular programs, our online version reached new heights with an amazing 4,700 views for the dragon-themed storytime,” she explained.

“Of the 10 weekly Story Time segments Sam posted online, the lowest number of views was a respectable 554. Before the segments could be filmed, permission to recreate each author’s work had to be sought–a difficult task which involved tracking down publishers and/or authors to get permission and then waiting for a positive response.”

MacLean noted that Manty has worked to finish 20 additional Story Time videos and is researching what other libraries are doing in response to the COVID pandemic. Manty also moved Baby Time online to keep connected with the families who take part in the program at the library.

MacLean acknowledged that even though they initially went ahead with many of the library’s regular summer programming, the realities of COVID forced their hand and caused them to cancel several long-running events.

“Sam planned eight weeks of daily summer programming for kids aged 0-12 and programs for teens up to age 16,” MacLean recounted.

“The annual Teddy Bear Picnic was planned as well, which meant remaining in contact with our partners and, unfortunately, weeks later having to cancel. When the deadline for the lockdown kept getting pushed back, I was asked to re-imagine how our summer programs would work if the province decided that nobody would be allowed in the library for the rest of the summer.

Over the course of the shutdown, MacLean said that many staff members who had not yet completed their Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) training were able to do so, bringing the library into good stead for an AODA audit in January. As well, staff members were encouraged to access a host of potential online programs the library could potentially offer in order to determine if they were worth the investment for library patrons.

Among other work ongoing or completed at the library, a number of IT improvements and changes were made thanks to the library’s IT Coordinator Jeremy Gruttner and three summer students have been doing community outreach through the library’s YouTube channel. An e-newsletter is also being prepared for interested library patrons.

While a number of things are being done at the library in the face of COVID, MacLean notes she’s still being cautious about a return to open doors.

“I’m moving towards opening very cautiously,” she said.

“This has been a very stressful time on everyone and in the coming days I’ll be meeting with library staff to decide when and how we open the doors again.”