Staff, such as library supervisor Lori McBlain, will be wearing face shields when in the public areas of the branches. Patrons will also be able to access sanitized computers and other equipment. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Patrons glad to be back inside Langley library branches

Pandemic proves libraries are about so much more than books

Latika Higgins was happy to be back in the Langley City library branch even though it meant lots of new rules to keep patrons and staff safer.

She missed the ritual of scanning rows of books to find armloads of the perfect reads.

“I’m a tiny bit sad,” she said about what it’s been like since the Fraser Valley Regional Library network branches closed in mid-March. “I like going to the library and picking out my own books.”

The nine-year-old and her mom, Raquel Higgins, stopped by the City branch last Thursday to return materials and pick out a whole bunch more to take home.

“We’re here all the time,” said the mother of an avid reader.

Library patrons have been allowed back into FVRL branches since Aug. 4. When they arrive, they are greeted by staff in face shields who pose questions to ensure people aren’t exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and haven’t travelled outside Canada recently.

Then arrows, posters, floor stickers and other items guide their flow through the library which has been revamped to use the space differently in the age of coronavirus.

The library network is still assessing the impact of COVID-19 on its budget. Funds were redirected to cover the extra pandemic capital costs from other sections of the budget.

“More analysis is needed to determine the full impact of COVID-19 on our budget and we will have a clearer understanding when we prepare our year end,” said Heather Scoular, the FVRL director of customer experience. “Unfortunately, we did have to lay off approximately 91 casual staff, which is about one quarter of our total workforce.”

While the branches had to shutter their doors, the library network has been functioning.

“We have been serving our customers now from the time we closed mid March,” she said.

The library system that covers 25 member communities around the Lower Mainland and as far east as Yale and Boston Bar used technology to figure out how it could still allow the public to check out materials, including all the unique technology it offers (telescopes, ukuleles, mini robots and more).

“We immediately reached out to our customers in a virtual and technological way,” she said.

Within two weeks of closure, the library came up with a virtual library card to allow people who didn’t have the plastic cards to sign up to access not only the books, DVDs and other materials in the library but also the online services of FVRL, including music, movies, TV shows and more.

“It has been phenomenally successful,” she said. “We have signed up thousands.”

Scoular noted that so many people have been hit economically by COVID so being able to access library resources became very important so people could continue to read, stream materials and access information.

“Our circulation went through the roof,” she noted.

More than 4,000 new customers signed up for e-Cards.

The library serves many different kinds of customers, all impacted by the branch closures.

To help families, staff again turned to technology to help people stay apart but stay connected, she said. The library network was unable to offer its popular programming, such as storytime for small children. Staff started filming themselves in their own homes doing readings that were accessed through the FVRL website.

“Virtual Programs have enjoyed 129,000 total video views,” Scoular said.

The library created 197 virtual programs as part of its Read, Learn, Play @ Home initiative and the network saw a 200 per cent increase in customers using the digital collections for the first time. Use of the digital collection increased by 71 per cent over last year.

Staff figured out a system that allowed the public to start access materials on loan. People would book items online, staff would assemble bags of requested items, and people would then pick them up at a designated branch. When items were returned, they were quarantined for three days to stop any virus spread on surfaces. Staff also found ways to help those who may not have computers or reliable internet access.

“Our staff even took special requests at the door,” she said.

But the branches, vital sources of public computers and free patron wifi, remained closed.

“That’s why Aug. 4 we were so excited to allow people back inside,” Scoular said.

Computers have been spaced out, and there’s extensive cleaning protocols. Occupancy of the branches has been reduced to allow for social distancing. Library patrons will notice glass and Plexiglas shields, staff masked up when in public areas, and other measures.

“This is just part of the new normal,” she said.

Details of the steps the library network has taken to combat the virus are available on its website.

“We will do our very best to serve parents, children, teachers, everyone who needs the resources of the library in any way that they need us,” Scoular said.


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Patrons can now go into branches of the Fraser Valley Regional Library network where COVID-19 protocols are in place. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Library supervisor Lori McBlain and other staff will help patrons understand the sanitization protocols and other changes that have taken place at local library branches which re-opened to the public Aug. 4. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Latika Higgins is glad to be able to visit her local library again and select books to read. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

New signage, floor stickers, glass and Plexiglas partitions and more have been installed in Fraser Valley Regional Library branches. Langley City library supervisor Lori McBlain shows how the check out area has been altered to allow for social distancing. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

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