By Liza Morris/Special to The News
Public libraries play an essential role in the health and well-being of communities and never has this been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the physical shutdown, FVRL libraries quickly pivoted to online services, boosting purchases of downloadable ebooks and audiobooks so that people would have increased access to free reading materials from home.
We also began producing online programs, like virtual Babytime and virtual Storytime, to fill the gap left by the loss of in-person library programs.
As phased re-opening began, we launched curbside pick-up to provide access to our physical collections. This was especially important to customers who were unable to access our online resources due to lack of internet, technology, or technical skills to utilize these services.
With reopening of our physical libraries, customers have returned to the library and continue to share their experiences of social isolation during the shutdown – when the library was closed to in-person visits.
One customer, a senior, told me that he was incredibly grateful we were open again, saying he had been so lonely when he could not make his daily visit to the library.
This is a story we are hearing again and again – the library isn’t just about what we lend, the space we provide, and the programs we run, but also offers an important social connection for members of our communities – many of whom are marginalized or live alone.
Our public computer stations are another area where we are seeing high need.
People often forget that not every home has a computer, printer, or internet access.
People are flooding in to use our internet stations to apply for the recently launched COVID Recovery Benefits, update resumes and apply for jobs, print documents required by employers, and complete rental assistance forms.
Another customer, who is currently living in a local shelter while he waits for housing, comes to use library computers daily as a way to stay in touch with the world.
When the physical libraries were closed, many lower-income and unhoused people were entirely shut off from online information and access to email and social media as a way to stay in touch with friends and family. If they did not have a phone, the isolation was even more challenging.
Access to free, indoor public space is also at a premium and something that libraries offer to all members of our communities.
We have put measures in place to make sure customers can safely come to the library to study and use our wifi.
Students, many who have moved to online high school or university classes, are staying with parents instead of moving to campuses across the country. More and more of them are coming to public libraries looking for study space, as are a wide variety of people who need access to free wifi.
Families are coming back and expressing gratitude for being able to choose books with their children again.
Illustrated picture books and first readers are especially popular with families, whether they are homeschooling, participating in gradual school reentry or attending school full time.
Teachers are also borrowing library materials to support their in-person lessons.
Public libraries recognize our important role in helping B.C. weather the storm of COVID-19 and continue on to the path towards recovery.
Our online services, virtual programs and resources, as well as our essential in-person library services, are an integral part of the response to COVID-19.
We are here for everyone, no matter your age, income level, or housing status.
Visit your local public library in-person or online to learn about all the great services we have to offer.
For more information about FVRL services and programs, check out www.fvrl.bc.ca or call your local library.
– Liza Morris is a community librarian at Fraser Valley Regional Library’s Maple Ridge branch
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