‘Our library is truly a hub for the public’

·4 min read

When Rae Yates was in respite care earlier this year recovering from surgery, her first get-well card was from staff at the Brighton Public Library.

That gesture was followed by a hand-delivered stack of books from a librarian to the Brighton resident.

From the time Yates was five years old and could print her name to receive a library card, libraries have been “a major institution in all of my life.” She had a limb amputation surgery in February and appreciated both the support she received from library staff and the outlet books provided as she recovered.

“It allowed me to have the books and everything that I wanted through this major change in my life,” Yates said.

“They’re very upfront, on time and it’s always very friendly and very efficient. They’re just there for the community.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the province in mid-March and through the months of restrictions that followed, while the library’s doors were closed, it continued to provide services to Brighton residents. And it wasn’t just about books.

“Many calls and e-mails would involve an informal chat about the pandemic and a check-in with how the person was doing,” said Heather Ratz, Brighton Public Library CEO.

“It was a good way to connect with our library community and lend an ear. It also helped staff stay connected with patrons who have become a part of the daily library life. We missed that interaction.”

Staff had to pivot and determine how it would continue providing services, Ratz said. There were brainstorming and professional development sessions and additional purchases, such as e-resources – books and audio books -- to meet demand and give patrons more variety.

“As more people moved to online resources, I received many requests for technical help and most of these I directed to other staff. They did a superb job of not only providing technical phone support but personal support as well,” the CEO noted.

“We wanted to send the message that we were still present, but just in a different way.” Ratz had calls directed to her cell phone so she could field questions and made herself available through e-mail as well.

Like other public libraries, Brighton Public Library also developed a broader virtual presence, which included unveiling its strategic plan live on YouTube, participating in Brighton’s virtual Canada Day celebrations and hosting a live staff chat.

When curbside pick-up of books became possible, the library provided “take-out” service, becoming more adept at browsing and selecting appropriate material for its patrons.

“The library was incredibly agile in its ability to keep their services available to the public during the pandemic,” said Brighton Mayor Brian Ostrander.

“I truly appreciate the work of our library staff to ensure a continuity of service. Our library is truly a hub for the public, which became obvious early in the closure period. Part of that is providing a place for patrons to go and chat, for those who live alone, or who may be at home caregivers, this is a vital role in the realm of mental health wellness,” he noted.

"For people who already felt socially isolated, the closure of spaces where they would go to feel part of something and the requests to stay at home as much as possible, made some lives even more isolated. It was such a relief to see the library re-open to allow the public into their spaces for the community's overall wellness.”

The Brighton Public Library re-opened in early September.

“Moving forward, I hope that the library can continue to provide in-branch services that meet the needs of the community and that we continue to be a leader in virtual engagement,” Ratz said. “We will continue to advocate for and support mental health and we will adjust our methods as needed.

“The bottom line is that no matter what our platform, our vision is still the same; to connect, enrich and inspire. I look forward to the day when we can bring the furniture out of storage and invite groups back (into) the community living room.”

Natalie Hamilton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Northumberland News