Library CEO updates Brock council on COVID-19 impact

·3 min read

BROCK: Like many other municipal services, Brock Township libraries have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At a special Committee of the Whole budget meeting, on Friday, January 22nd, Brian Harding, CEO of Brock Township Libraries, provided councillors an update on how the libraries have fared during the pandemic, and presented the 2021 library budget.

“The operational impacts from COVID-19 have been slightly different in our case, compared to the township itself,” Mr. Harding said.

Presently, Mr. Harding said, libraries are being seen by the provincial government as an essential service.

In 2020, Brock libraries saw a 32 per cent increase in e-book and digital audio-book borrowing by patrons.

“We thought we had a great year for digital services [in 2019]. We saw eight per cent growth in 2019. In 2020, we saw 32 per cent growth. So that’s significant,” Mr. Harding explained. “It doesn’t offset some of the losses we’ve seen in print borrowing, but it is significant. The pandemic was enough to nudge people in the digital direction.”

COVID-19 has forced services such as libraries to rapidly create and implement new safety measures.

“We’ve been quarantining all of the materials being returned to us, since the week after the pandemic started. That requires us to put materials into isolation because surface transmission, although highly unlikely, we know now with COVID-19, is [still] a possibility.” Mr. Harding said. “Also, just other procedures like our contactless circulation procedure; it’s very rigorous, and it’s been reviewed by the health department.”

Their response to the pandemic has been met with praise from community members.

“I’ve received very positive feedback from staff. There’s a high satisfaction among our staff on how the pandemic has been handled. Everyone continues to feel good about their personal safety and coming to work, and ensuring the safety of our patrons,” Mr. Harding stated. “We’ve had very, very positive patron feedback. People have told us, profusely, how much they missed us when we were gone, and they continue to be thankful we have been able to maintain our service now, through this second wave.”

However, not all regular patrons returned to the library in 2020.

“Some more regular patrons have not come back to us. We’re calling them our lost patrons,” Mr. Harding said, adding they are “working very hard to get those lost patrons back.”

But, the libraries were able to end 2020 with a surplus of about $90,000, 70 per cent of which will go towards offsetting the 2021 tax levy.

Mr. Harding called it a “significant surplus”, with the previous year’s surplus having been over $22,000.

Regarding when libraries may return to some version of normalized service, Mr. Harding said he is looking possibly at September, depending on how the current pandemic situation plays out in Ontario.

“I’ve very optimistic,whenever the word comes down, as soon as the restrictions start to get lifted, we’ll be able to respond very quickly, and we’ll be able to get to that regular state of operations as quickly as we possibly can.”

Dan Cearns, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Standard Newspaper