We all need libraries. They are safe, welcoming and trusted spaces in every community that provide free access not just to books, information, experiences and ideas but to the expert professional advice and support needed to help find resources.
“Overall, our mission is to provide our community access to information, to provide a safe space that’s inclusive where people can really be in a space that’s free to the public,” Anjana Kipfer, manager of marketing and communications at the Waterloo Public Library (WPL) said.
“Our mission is to become a place that welcomes our community into our engaging spaces where people are able to connect, where ideas [are] able to flourish and where lives are transformed through our services and offerings,” Shirley Luu, the digital marketing manager at Kitchener Public Library (KPL) said.
The pandemic has forced local libraries to figure out how they will provide materials and services to patrons while adhering to social distancing regulations. In March, KPL and WPL closed their doors due to COVID-19. Since then, both libraries have pivoted to allow people online access to their typical services instead.
“…kids, adults and teenagers [can] participate in virtual programs like trivia and cooking classes. And we highlighted our digital library, which was available previously, but was, of course, in even higher demand because people could not come in to borrow materials,” Kipfer said.
WPL said they looked to some of their community partnerships to help out with programs that provide benefits to those in need and allow the library to continue serving the community.
“For example, we worked with the Reception House and we gave them some Chromebooks and Wifi hotspots for newcomer families who needed access to that technology. And then we also loaned out some of our musical instruments to House of Friendship so they can use music in their programming,” Luu said.
Although both libraries have moved services online and have encouraged the use of digital materials, regulations have prevented them from being able to provide a space for patrons.
“The reality is the library is also a physical space where a lot of people just hang out and it’s a place to be, especially for some of our more vulnerable populations. So it was a tough decision to have to close down our physical space,” Luu said.
As restrictions have started to lift, both the KPL and the WPL have formulated systems that allow patrons to return and check out physical materials.
On June 15, WPL launched their ‘To Go Curbside Pick-up’ which allows patrons to place holds online and pick them up once they’re available, at the John M. Harper branch or the main branch.
“So far it’s been going really well. We’ve had wonderful feedback from the community — it’s a great way to see our customers again in person, even if it is from a distance, and of course, everyone is excited to be able to borrow materials again from the library,” Kipfer said.
On June 17, KPL started its own program called ‘Curb and Carry,’ featuring its own mascot — a carry-out bag named Curby. The program started with scheduled curbside pick-up times and has since moved to allow people to come into the library itself to pick up their holds.
“What we’ve seen is that although the last couple of months we’ve put everything online, we have all these amazing programs and digital content, people still want their physical books. I just ran the numbers earlier today. So we only started this on Monday and already we’ve checked out over 2000 items to our customers, and we’ve served 700 people,” Luu said.
Though borrowing has been moved somewhat offline, both libraries have big plans for digital summer programs with a whole array of things in the works. On top of their existing virtual book clubs and trivia nights, WPL will also be offering virtual reading clubs this summer.
“We have summer reading clubs for all ages, starting from preschoolers and up to adults. And there are different themes, missions and challenges at each group level that people can accomplish and then get points, and prizes, so we’ll be focusing on that as well. But, yeah, lots of great stuff to come,” Kipfer said.