With a mandate well beyond books, the North Vancouver District Public Library, was a local leader in providing innovative programming and access to its materials and services. The move to take traditional paper and pivot to virtual services was quick and provided a much needed escape and community connection in early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
When everything changed
As the Covid-10 March closures unfolded throughout our community, it was perhaps the closure of the North Vancouver District Public Library that was felt most widely. From social seniors to parents and babies, from those on the society’s fringes to community-building groups – and everyone in between has always been welcome at the library until the doors were forced shut.
“For many of us, early March was a challenging time as we started to hear about COVID-19 impacting our community here, and particularly as we learned about the devastating outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre where we make regular trips for Home Library Service Patrons,” said Jacqueline van Dyk, director of library services. “Our hearts were with our community as we navigated the challenges presented by the pandemic in real time, as they were unfolding before us.”
The NVDPL was asked to close its doors by the local health authority on March 16. Many people hearing the news took the last few hours to stock up on materials.
“My initial thoughts were focused on how we could keep our community and staff safe,” said van Dyk. “While everything was still very day-to-day, the one thing that became clear was that our service to the community is so vital.”
More than just books
The library and its staff are well aware of the place it has in the community – well beyond just books. Their mandate to support all residents coloured their priorities as the organization addressed its role for the coming months.
“During this time of encouraged social-distancing and increased isolation, connecting with our community’s most vulnerable, and getting stories and resources into the hands of readers, was never more critical,” said van Dyk. “ And that we needed to continue to provide services to help our patrons during this time—whether that was for entertainment and educational purposes while we were all staying closer to home, or for our community’s most vulnerable populations who needed help staying connected and engaged.”
The NVDPL saw an immediate uptick in digital circulation: an increase of 60 percent.
“We know that there are many library users who were cut off from access to technology and the internet,” she said. “West Vancouver Memorial Library spearheaded a partnership with TELUS that all three North Shore libraries partnered on to help bridge that digital divide. A TELUS donation through the Take-Home Technology initiative provided many in our community with the opportunity to connect with friends and family, and library and government resources.”
The library plays a vital role in North Vancouver supporting those in social isolation and those in need of learning opportunities. The closure of meeting rooms and social spaces was felt deeply.
“The shift to digital content and virtual programs has been great for some, and in some ways, inadequate for others. This is a gap we’re looking at closely.”
van Dyk recognizes the larger community was incredibly supportive of the library, but it was the efforts of her staff that made all the difference.
“I am grateful for the leadership and support from the local health authority, District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, and our municipality in the District of North Vancouver,” she said. “When many other libraries ceased almost all operations, our staff remained committed to delivering library service in North Vancouver. Our buildings may have been closed to the public, but our services remained open. I am immensely appreciative and proud of the work the NVDPL team has done to innovate and retool our services.”
Supporting the most vulnerable
One of the most valued services provided by the library is getting materials in the hands of people who can’t actually visit its facilities. Services the staff were dedicated to maintaining during this most challenging time.
“Many of our patrons have mobility and visual and perceptual challenges that make it impossible for them to leave their homes,” said van Dyk. “Even as a coronavirus outbreak took place in our community, NVDPL staff remained committed to supporting Home Library Service and Talking Books patrons. We checked in with care homes and individuals who we regularly deliver to and adapted our procedures to ensure that these patrons had access to the content they rely on for entertainment and mental health purposes.”
Feeding the appetites of innovation
The importance of library materials as entertainment, education, escape and mental health tools were all key motivators for staff to think outside of the box and adapt.
“Within a week of closure, our staff had developed a proposal for an initiative to safely deliver physical books to our patrons,” said van Dyk “Restaurants and businesses were operating in this new way of curbside pickup, and we thought…can we do this too? Library Takeout at NVDPL was born, and our staff worked tirelessly to make it happen.
“We took about a month to really think about the impacts, develop our plans for review by local health authorities, and receive training from infection control officers at North Vancouver District Fire and Rescue Services.”
To say the service has been successful is an understatement. Each week about 7000 books are borrowed through Takeout. The program was so well developed it has been adopted by other community libraries. From operating procedures to health and safety considerations, and even the Library Takeout logo were shared with other librarians who approached them for guidance on how to initiate similar programs at their libraries, said van Dyk. The programs and methods used by NVDPL have also been highlighted throughout the province, including by WorkSafe BC.
Like the school system, recreation facilities and other public institutions, the NVDPL can’t forecast what the future will look like. They have to negotiate the fine line of providing services while maintaining the health of their staff and patrons.
“The reality is that we’re all in uncharted territory, and creating the path as we go,” said van Dyk. “Thinking back to how we were operating in early March, it’s hard to forecast what life will look like for us in 12 months—or even 12 weeks.”
The first week of July, staff were able to offer a modified service – NVDPL Express – at all three of its locations.
“We are so thrilled to welcome our community back for self-service holds pickup, browsing of Quick Picks, public computer access and printing, and some in-person help with accounts and accessing materials. This is our first step towards reintroducing in-person services in our facilities since March 16.”
The staff are continuing to offer the community its virtual programs and services and innovating ways to restore more in-person services.
“Establishing a phased reintroduction of services will help continue to slow the spread of coronavirus as well as ensure our ability to scale back or push forward, contingent on provincial health directives and how our community is responding,” said van Dyk. “The two things I am confident in right now are that the health and safety of NVDPL patrons and our staff remains our top priority, and that we will continually develop, grow, and adapt our services to ensure that we support our community through this time.”
Summer programs are still continuing this summer. van Dyk offers these recommendations:
- For kids: weekly virtual storytimes, Summer Reading Club and all of the amazing Virtual Visits we have lined-up with authors, illustrators, and even astronauts.
- For teens: QuaranTEEN Art Contest, Teen Writing Contest, and Teen Summer Reading Club.
- For adults: the Urban Salmon Project, and Adult Summer Reading club, featuring book talks all summer long.