Transcript: Libraries in the Time of COVID-19 | Nov 17, 2020

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a blue suit, blue shirt, and striped blue tie.

A caption on screen reads "How libraries check out in a pandemic. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says WHILE THE FRONT DOORS OF LIBRARIES ACROSS THE PROVINCE CLOSED BACK IN MARCH ALONG WITH SO MANY OTHER VITAL COMMUNITY HUBS, THAT DIDN'T KEEP THEM OUT OF CIRCULATION FOR LONG. EVEN BEFORE THEY WERE ALLOWED TO HAVE IN-PERSON SERVICES AGAIN, LIBRARIANS ACROSS THE PROVINCE GOT TO WORK ONLINE AND BEYOND. WITH US NOW TO EXPLAIN: IN THE TOWN OF ELGIN, IN EASTERN ONTARIO: VICKI STEVENSON, SHE'S THE CEO OF THE RIDEAU LAKES PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM...

Vicki is in her forties, with blond hair in a bun and bangs. She's wearing glasses and a gray blazer.

Steve continues AND IN THE DOWNTOWN CORE OF THE PROVINCIAL CAPITAL AT THE BIG REFERENCE LIBRARY ON YONGE STREET: THERE'S VICKERY BOWLES, CITY LIBRARIAN OF THE TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY.

Vickery is in her fifties, with blond hair in a short bob. She's wearing a brown jacket, a black blouse and a golden metal necklace.

Steve continues IT'S GREAT TO HAVE YOU TWO WITH US ON TVO TONIGHT. I GUESS IT'S A FACT THAT TO BE A REALLY GOOD LIBRARIAN IN THIS PROVINCE, THE FIRST FOUR LETTERS OF YOUR FIRST NAME HAVE TO BE V-I-C-K; IS THAT RIGHT?

Vickery says IT SEEMS THAT WAY.

Steve says IT SEEMS TO BE A THING.

Vickery says IT SEEMS TO BE A THING.

Steve says LET ME START WITH THIS QUOTE FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL ABOUT HOW LIBRARIES HAVE BEEN FARING DURING THIS PANDEMIC. HERE'S THE QUOTE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Locked down but busy as ever." The quote reads "As life gets more difficult for people who've become unemployed or homeless, equal access to library spaces and resources is taking on a more profound meaning. Demand for online library services has skyrocketed across the country, with expanded online programming and e-book spending. The Ottawa library system -which had lent out more than half a million materials at the onset of the pandemic- saw an increase in temporary cardholders of 5000 during lockdown, and in Halifax, cardholders grew by 6000."
Quoted from Kerry Gold, The Globe and Mail. July 26, 2020.

Steve says WELL, THIS CERTAINLY, YOU KNOW, REFUTES THE FACT THAT WHEN THE LIBRARIES GOT SHUT OWN, EVERYTHING CAME TO AN END. YOU BOTH HAD YOUR DOORS FORCED TO BE CLOSED BY THE STATE OF EMERGENCY IN THE PROVINCE. SO LET'S FIND OUT... VICKERY, START US OFF. HOW DID PEOPLE INTERACT WITH THE TORONTO LIBRARY SYSTEM WHEN YOU WEREN'T ALLOWED TO BE OPEN?

The caption changes to "Vickery Bowles. Toronto Public Library."
Then, it changes again to "COVID-19 response."

Vickery says YOU TALKED ABOUT PEOPLE REGISTERING FOR CARDS. OUR DIGITAL ACCESS CARDS WERE INCREDIBLY POPULAR. SO ONCE WE CLOSED, WE HAD ABOUT 4,000 PEOPLE REGISTERING FOR THESE CARDS, AND THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T HAVE LIBRARY CARDS UP UNTIL THAT POINT. AND THEN WE REALLY CHANGED... MADE A BIG CHANGE. WE'VE ALWAYS PROVIDED SOME ONLINE PROGRAMMING, BUT WE REALLY MADE A BIG CHANGE AND ALLOWED OUR STAFF TO DEVELOP ALL SORTS OF... DIFFERENT KINDS OF PROGRAMMING, AND WE DELIVERED OVER 550 PROGRAMS WITH 40,000 ATTENDEES IN JUST A FEW MONTHS, AND THAT REALLY SPOKE TO THIS TRANSITION TO THE ONLINE ENVIRONMENT WHICH WAS SO CRITICAL FOR PEOPLE, GIVING PEOPLE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE THOSE CONNECTIONS.

Steve says YOU KNOW, LET ME FOLLOW UP WITH YOU HERE FOR A SECOND, VICKERY. I'VE HEARD PEOPLE IN THE POST SECONDARY SECTOR SAY, IF LEFT TO OUR OWN DEVICES IT WOULD HAVE TAKEN US TEN YEARS TO MOVE THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF COURSES WE OFFER ONLINE, AND WE DID IT IN A WEEKEND. YOU KNOW, I'VE HEARD PEOPLE SAY THAT. SO THE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION FOR YOU IS: HOW IN HEAVEN'S NAME DID YOU DO ALL THAT?

The caption changes to "Vickery Bowles, @vbowlesTPL."

Vickery says WELL, IT WAS THROUGH A LOT OF INNOVATIVE THINKING AND A LOT OF HARD WORK AND DEDICATION ON BEHALF OF OUR STAFF WHO REALLY, YOU KNOW, WE DROPPED EVERYTHING, AND WE JUST FOCUSED ON WHAT WE NEEDED TO DO AS A RESULT OF BEING CLOSED ON MARCH 13TH AND HAVING TO RE-THINK HOW WE DELIVERED OUR SERVICES. SO IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF WHERE THERE'S A WILL, THERE'S A WAY, AND THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE DID.

Steve says OKAY. VICKI, HOW ABOUT YOU? HOW DID YOU STAY IN TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE WHO DEPEND ON YOU WHEN THE PROVINCE FORCED YOU TO CLOSE YOUR DOORS?

The caption changes to "Vicki Stevenson. Rideau Lakes Public Library."

Vicki says I WOULD ECHO WHAT VICKERY SAID IN THE SENSE THAT OUR STAFF REALLY TOOK ON A LOT OF TECHNOLOGY VERY QUICKLY. SOME OF THEM ARE SELF-PROFESSED NON-TECHY PEOPLE AND OUR CHILDREN'S PROGRAM PERSON CONVERTED HER DOWNSTAIRS BASEMENT TO A STUDIO SPACE AND STARTED DOING INTERACTIVE ZOOM SESSIONS WITH ALL OF OUR FAMILIES, STORYTIMES, SAME FORMAT THAT THEY WOULD DO IN PERSON, WITH THE BENEFIT THAT THEY COULD SEE EACH OTHER AND KIDS COULD SHARE A LITTLE BIT OF THEIR DAY. THEY ALREADY KNEW EACH OTHER. IT WAS A BIT OF REASSURANCE IN A VERY STRANGE TIME FOR YOUNG CHILDREN AND FAMILIES. SO TO SEE A FAMILIAR FACE, TO BE ABLE TO SING THE SAME SONGS. A LOT OF PARENTS TOLD US IT WAS A REAL LIFE-SAVER FOR THEM IN THOSE EARLY WEEKS AND, YES, WE ALSO PIVOTED VERY QUICKLY, I WOULD SAY, BY THE END OF MARCH, WE WERE RUNNING VIRTUAL STORYTIME, SOMETHING WE HAD NEVER TAKEN ON BEFORE BUT I REALLY HAVE TO HAND IT TO STAFF HOW WE DID RESPOND.

Steve says CAN YOU FOLLOW UP ON THAT, VICKI? WHAT DO YOU NOW DO DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC THAT YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF DOING THAT WAY BUT NOW YOU DO AND PROBABLY WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO?

The caption changes to "Vicki Stevenson, @rideaulibrary1."

Vicki says WELL, DEFINITELY THE ONLINE PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN, STORYTIMES ARE ONGOING. WE'VE ALSO EXPANDED IT INTO SOME MORE WORKSHOPS FOR YOUTH AND TEENS, SO HE RIGHT NOW WE'RE RUNNING A YOGA WORK SHOP SERIES FOR KIDS. AND THAT'S ONGOING. ALSO, WE DID CURBSIDE PICKUP FOR PATRONS ONCE WE WERE ALLOWED TO HAVE THE DOORS OPEN SOMEWHAT. AND THAT'S BEEN VERY POPULAR AS WELL. WE ALWAYS DID A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF OUTREACH TO PATRONS WHO COULDN'T COME TO US. WE WOULD DELIVER TO THEM AS NEEDED. BUT IT'S BECOME MUCH MORE OF A STAPLE. PEOPLE LOOK FORWARD TO BEING ABLE TO PICK UP THEIR BAG OF BOOKS TO GO.

Steve says AND VICKERY, HOW ABOUT YOU? WHAT DO YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NOW THAT YOU'RE GOING TO CONTINUE TO DO DIFFERENTLY?

Vickery says I'LL TELL YOU A BIG AREA OF DEVELOPMENT FOR US IS WITH FOOD BANKS. WHEN WE CLOSED IN MARCH, THERE WAS A REAL NEED IN TORONTO FOR FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITES AND FOR PEOPLE TO SUPPORT THOSE SITES. SO WE OPENED 12 OF OUR BRANCHES FOR FOOD BANK DISTRIBUTION. WE REPURPOSED OUR BOOK-SORTING AND DISTRIBUTION SITE FOR FOOD BANK SORTING AND DISTRIBUTION. OUR STAFF VOLUNTEERED FOR THOSE SITES. AND WE DELIVERED FOOD TO THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN TORONTO, WITH THE SUPPORT AND THE LEADERSHIP, OF COURSE, OF THE DAILY BREAD FOOD BANK AND NORTH YORK HARVEST FOOD BANKS AND WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO. BUT WHAT'S INTERESTING IS NOW THAT WE'VE OPENED TWO OF THOSE LOCATIONS IN THE NORTHWEST AREA OF TORONTO, STILL NEED THOSE FOOD BANK SITES, AND SO WE'RE STILL OPERATING FOOD BANK DISTRIBUTION FROM THOSE LIBRARIES NOW, EVEN AFTER WE'VE OPENED. SO THAT'S BEEN A HUGE... YOU KNOW, PARTNERSHIPS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT TO LIBRARIES, AND IT'S BEEN REALLY IMPORTANT, AS WE'VE MOVED THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC, TO HAVE PARTNERS IN THE COMMUNITY WHERE WE CAN WORK TOGETHER TO SERVE THE COMMUNITY IN WHATEVER WAY THAT COMMUNITY NEEDS. AND THAT'S CERTAINLY BEEN WHAT WE'VE BEEN DOING HERE, AND FOOD BANKS HAVE BEEN A HUGE AREA OF DEVELOPMENT AND SERVICE FOR PUBLIC LIBRARIES HERE IN TORONTO.

Steve says LET ME DO A QUICK FOLLOW-UP WITH YOU ON THAT BECAUSE THAT'S NOTHING THAT PEOPLE TRADITIONALLY THINK OF AS BEING PART OF THE MISSION OF A LIBRARY SYSTEM. SO WHERE DID THE IDEA FROM THAT COME FROM TO GET INVOLVED IN THAT AND WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Vickery says WELL, WE GOT... IT WAS THROUGH THE DISCUSSIONS WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PANDEMIC WHEN WE WERE TALKING WITH DIFFERENT GROUPS OF STAFF AT THE CITY ABOUT WHAT THE CITY NEEDED, AND THE SENIOR TEAM AND I STARTED TALKING ABOUT IT AND SAID, WELL, WE'RE THE PERFECT PLACE FOR THIS. WE ARE LOGISTICS EXPERTS, MOVING BOOKS AROUND. WE CAN MOVE FORWARD AROUND TOO. AND WE ARE COMMITTED TO SERVING OUR COMMUNITY. OUR STAFF ARE COMMITTED TO SERVING OUR COMMUNITY. AND IF THAT MEANS WE CAN DO THAT WITH FOOD, THEN THAT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT TO US. AND WHAT WAS INTERESTING, WE SAW MANY OF OUR CUSTOMERS THAT WE SEE IN THOSE BRANCHES AS LIBRARY CUSTOMERS, WE SAW MANY OF THOSE CUSTOMERS AT THOSE 12 FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITES COMING FOR FOOD AS WELL, AND WE ALSO DISTRIBUTED 4,000 BOOKS. WE PUT BOOKS IN HAMPERS FOR CHILDREN IN ADDITION TO THE FOOD, AND WE WERE ABLE TO DO THAT THROUGH THE SUPPORT OF OUR LIBRARY FOUNDATION, WHICH HAS BEEN TREMENDOUS IN SUPPORTING US WITH DIFFERENT INITIATIVES LIKE THIS AND WITH INTERNET CONNECTIVITY, WHICH IS ANOTHER AREA THAT WE'VE BEEN REALLY WORKING ON WITH COMMUNITY PARTNERS.

Steve says LET ME ASK YOU BOTH ABOUT COVID. OKAY, VICKI, TO YOU FIRST. HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CASES OF COVID-19 THAT YOU'VE DISCOVERED AMONG EITHER YOUR PATRONS OR YOUR STAFF?

Vicki says NOT AT THIS MOMENT. THE RIDEAU LAKES REGION HAS BEEN MAYBE, WE COULD SEE, A BUBBLE WITHIN A BUBBLE. THERE'S BEEN VERY LOW CASE COUNTS IN THIS REGION, ACCORDING TO THE LANARK LEEDS DISTRICT HEALTH UNIT.

Steve says SO SO FAR SO GOOD.

Vicki says SO FAR SO GOOD.

Steve says ARE YOU DOING CLEANING, YOU KNOW, WHEN A BOOK COMES BACK IN, ARE YOU TAKING EXTRA ABOVE AND BEYOND MEASURES TO MAKE SURE THINGS ARE CLEAN?

Vicki says WE HAVE. WE'VE DEVELOPED A REOPENING GUIDELINE DOCUMENT THAT WE DID IN CONNECTION WITH THE PUBLIC HEALTH UNIT AND THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ONTARIO PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS, AND BASICALLY IT COVERS A WIDE RANGE OF MEASURES WE PUT IN PLACE TO MAKE SURE STAFF AND PEOPLE COMING INTO THE LIBRARY WOULD BE AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE. IT INCLUDES EXTRA CLEANING, DISINFECTION. THE BOOKS AND OTHER MATERIALS ARE SET ASIDE FOR A QUARANTINE PERIOD, AND WE FIND THAT OUR BEST ALLY IN THIS AS A SMALL LIBRARY SYSTEM IS TO USE TIME. IT'S ON OUR SIDE TO HELP MAKE SURE THAT WHEN WE PUT ITEMS BACK OUT ON THE SHELF, WE KNOW THEY'VE BEEN UNTOUCHED FOR A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF TIME AND MAKE SURE THEY HAVE BEEN QUARANTINED.

Steve says OUT OF CURIOSITY, HOW LONG DOES A BOOK HAVE TO BE SET ASIDE BEFORE ANYBODY ELSE CAN GET BACK AT IT AGAIN?

Vicki says IT VARIES FROM LIBRARY TO LIBRARY ACROSS ONTARIO AND THE WIDER PICTURE. WE HAVE STUCK WITH THE 72-HOUR RULE.

Steve says VICKERY, SAME QUESTION TO YOU: ANY CASES OF COVID-19 AMONG PATRONS OR STAFF?

Vickery says WE HAVE 82 BRANCHES OPEN OF OUR 100 BRANCHES AND WE HAVE SOME CASES WHERE STAFF HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED AS COVID POSITIVE AND A FEW CUSTOMERS HAVE CONTACTED US AS WELL. BUT NONE OF THAT HAS BEEN AS A RESULT OF IT BEING TRANSMITTED AT THE LIBRARY. IT'S BEEN THROUGH OTHER CONNECTIONS. AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, WE HAVE A HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOL IN PLACE WHERE WE CLOSE THE BRANCH AND WE DO A THOROUGH SANITATION OF THE BRANCH, AND WE HAVE THIS POSTED ON OUR WEBSITE SO PEOPLE ARE AWARE OF IT AS WELL. BUT IT'S BEEN VERY, VERY FEW CASES, AND THE LIBRARY IS NOT A SOURCE OF COVID TRANSMISSION.

Steve says I JUST WANT TO BE CLEAR ABOUT THAT. SO PEOPLE HAD IT BEFORE THEY WALKED INTO THE LIBRARY AND THEN, THAT'S HOW IT CAME TO YOUR ATTENTION BECAUSE THEY WERE IN THE LIBRARY.

Vickery says YES, AFTERWARDS, THEY WERE DIAGNOSED AND THEY LET US KNOW.

Steve says OKAY. GOTCHA. YOU KNOW, IT'S FUNNY. ANY TIME I TALK TO ANYBODY ABOUT LIBRARIES THESE DAYS, THE FIRST THING THEY ALWAYS ASK ME IS: HOW COME THEY DON'T CHARGE FINES ANYMORE? LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT. BECAUSE IT WOULD SEEM TO ME... OKAY, WELL. I'LL START WITH THE NEUTRAL OPEN-ENDED QUESTION AND WE'LL DO ALL THE FOLLOW-UPS. VICKERY, WHY AREN'T YOU CHARGING FINES ANYMORE?

Vickery says WE'RE NOT CHARGING FINES NOW BECAUSE OF THIS QUARANTINE PERIOD. SO WHEN THE MATERIALS ARE RETURNED, FOR TORONTO IT'S A 96-HOUR QUARANTINE PERIOD. SO THE STAFF PUT THEM IN BOXES. THEY'RE NOT CHECKED IN. AND THEY GO INTO A ROOM WHERE THEY ARE HELD FOR 96 HOURS. SOMETIMES IT CAN BE A BIT LONGER. AND SO WE DON'T WANT TO BE IN A POSITION OF CHARGING PEOPLE FINES BECAUSE THE MATERIAL SIMPLY HASN'T BEEN CHECKED IN ON TIME. IT'S NOT WORKABLE. BUT THERE IS A LARGER ISSUE ABOUT FINES, AND THAT IS THAT FINES... AND THIS HAS BEEN... THERE'S GROWING EVIDENCE TO INDICATE THAT FINES ARE A BARRIER TO USE, ESPECIALLY IN LOWER INCOME COMMUNITIES AND AMONG PEOPLE WHO AREN'T IN A POSITION TO PAY FINES. AND THIS HAS BEEN PROVEN OVER AND OVER AGAIN. AND IN TORONTO, WE KNOW THAT ABOUT... OF OUR CHILD CUSTOMERS, ABOUT 1 percent OF OUR CHILD BORROWERS HAVE OVERDUE FINES. BUT IN LOWER INCOME COMMUNITIES, THAT IS ABOUT 5 percent AND THEY'RE BLOCKED FROM USING THE LIBRARY. SO INSTEAD OF ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO RETURN THEIR MATERIALS, WHAT THE OVERDUE FINE IS DOING IS IT'S BLOCKING PEOPLE FROM USING THE LIBRARY. IT'S A BARRIER TO SERVICE. AND SO IN AREAS... ABOUT 200 LIBRARIES ACROSS CANADA HAVE ELIMINATED FINES. AND IN TORONTO WE'VE INTRODUCED THE ELIMINATION OF CHILDREN'S FINES, WHICH HAS BEEN ENDORSED BY OUR LIBRARY BOARD. WE'VE INTRODUCED THIS AS A BUDGET ISSUE FOR 2021 AND WE ARE DISCUSSING THIS WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO AS A BUDGET... TO ELIMINATE CHILDREN'S FINES IN 2021.

Steve says VICKI, DO I HAVE THIS RIGHT. YOU GUYS HAVEN'T HAD FINES IN YOUR LIBRARY SYSTEM FOR 6 YEARS ALREADY?

Vicki says SINCE 2014, WE ELIMINATED THE MAJORITY OF OUR FINES. WE DID KEEP A FEW IN PLACE FOR HIGH TURNOVER ITEMS LIKE THE NEW DVDs WHEN WE WERE USING INTER-LIBRARY LOAN AS WELL, TRY TO ENCOURAGE A QUICK RETURN OF THOSE. BUT FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF OUR ITEMS... AND, AGAIN, WE STARTED WITH THE CHILDREN'S COLLECTION AS WELL, NOT CHARGING FINES THAT WAY, AND THEN PHASED THEM OUT MORE OR LESS IN THE WHOLE SYSTEM. SO IT HAS BEEN ABOUT SIX YEARS.

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Steve says LET ME ASK THE DUMB OBVIOUS FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: WHY WOULD ANYBODY BRING MATERIAL BACK ON TIME IF THERE'S NO PENALTY FOR IT?

Vicki says GO AHEAD, VICKERY.

Vickery says WELL, THE RESULT OF OTHER LIBRARY SYSTEMS THAT HAVE GONE BEFORE US IS THAT PEOPLE DO RETURN THEM ON TIME, AND THERE'S INCREASED USE OF OUR COLLECTIONS AND RESOURCES, ESPECIALLY AMONGST PEOPLE IN LOWER INCOME COMMUNITIES. SO IT DOESN'T HAVE THE EFFECT THAT WE THOUGHT FINES WERE GOING TO HAVE. IN ADDITION TO THAT, WE HAVEN'T ELIMINATED FINES FOR MATERIALS THAT AREN'T RETURNED. SO IF YOU DON'T RETURN SOMETHING, YOU STILL GET CHARGED FOR THE REPLACEMENT OF THAT MATERIAL...

Steve says OKAY, BUT TELL ME THIS: WHAT KIND OF REVENUE WERE YOU LOOKING AT WHEN YOU DID CHARGE FINES?

Vickery says WELL, OUR CHILDREN'S FINES ARE ABOUT 600,000 dollars A YEAR AND 1.4 MILLION dollars FOR ADULT FINES. THAT'S ABOUT THE REVENUE WE HAVE IN FINES.

Steve says SO IT'S 2 MILLION BUCKS.

Vickery says YES.

Steve says THAT'S NOT NOTHING. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO REPLACE 2 MILLION BUCKS?

Vickery says THIS IS OUR DISCUSSION WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO.

Steve says A HA HA. ALL RIGHT. SO MAYOR TORY, YOU'RE DOWN ON ONE KNEE AND SAYING, "PLEASE, MAKE US WHOLE. WE NEED THAT 2 MILLION dollars." IS THAT THE IDEA?

Vickery says YES. OVER TWO YEARS, WE'RE SUGGESTING 600,000 dollars FOR 2021 AND THEN THE REST, THE 1.4 MILLION dollars IN 2022.

Steve says MIND YOU, TWO MILLION BUCKS IS REAL MONEY, BUT I'M GUESSING YOUR BUDGET IS SOMEWHERE AROUND 100 MILLION...

Vickery says IT'S 200 MILLION dollars.

Steve says OH, MY GOODNESS. THIS ISN'T GOING TO PUT YOU IN THE POORHOUSE IF YOU DON'T GET THIS MONEY.

Vickery says NO.

Steve says YOU GOT IT. YOU'RE MAKING A BIGGER POINT HERE, I UNDERSTAND. VICKI, YOUR LIBRARY SYSTEM IS OBVIOUSLY VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE TORONTO SYSTEM, WHICH IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST IN THE WORLD, AS WE KNOW. SO DESCRIBE YOUR SYSTEM TO US. RIDEAU LAKES. HOW DOES IT WORK?

The caption changes to "An evolving role."

Vicki says WELL, WE ARE A FIVE-BRANCH SYSTEM IN A VERY RURAL AREA. WE'RE HALFWAY BETWEEN KINGSTON AND OTTAWA, AND SO, YES, WE HAVE A LOW POPULATION OF AROUND 11,000, AND, YES, WE DO SERVE A MUCH SMALLER BASE, BUT I LIKE TO THINK THAT OUR LIBRARY SYSTEM MEETS A LOT OF THE SAME NEEDS IN OUR COMMUNITY THAT YOU WOULD FIND IN OTHER LIBRARIES ELSEWHERE. SO WE ARE HAPPY... OUR EXPERIENCE, HAPPILY, HAS BEEN POSITIVE. BEING COVID FREE, WE HAVE NOT HAD AN ISSUE WITH CHRONIC OVERDUES. SOME OF THE GOOD INTENTIONS PEOPLE BRING TO A LIBRARY, THAT IDEA OF SHARING, REALLY GOES A LONG WAY. SO WE HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED EITHER FINANCIAL HARDSHIP OR A LOSS TO OUR COLLECTIONS BY GOING FINE-FREE, AND I FEEL THAT OUR SMALL SIZE IS OUR STRENGTH IN THE SENSE THAT IT WAS NEVER A MAJOR COMPONENT OF OUR BUDGET, AND ALSO THE FACT OF, WE HAVE VERY PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH OUR LIBRARY MEMBERS, SO THEY COME IN AND WE CAN TALK THINGS THROUGH WITH THEM AND BE FLEX BELIEVING.

Steve says ONE OF THE REASONS I'M ASKING THIS QUESTION, VICKI, IS THERE'S AN OLD FASHIONED IDEA THAT ALL LIBRARIES DO IS LOAN BOOKS AND THAT IS IT. THAT'S CLEARLY AN OUTDATED NOTION. WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO GIVE US A BETTER SENSE ABOUT WHAT KINDS OF SERVICES YOU ACTUALLY DO PROVIDE TO THE PUBLIC THAT YOU SERVE?

Vicki says WELL, ONE OF OUR BIGGEST ROLES, WE BELIEVE, IN OUR COMMUNITY, IS HELPING PEOPLE EXPLORE AND GAIN CONFIDENCE WITH TECHNOLOGY, ESPECIALLY IN RURAL AREAS, OUR BROADBAND AND ACCESS TO INTERNET CAN BE A LITTLE PRECARIOUS. PEOPLE'S COMFORT LEVEL WITH ACCESSING ONLINE SITES, IT COULD BE FOR GOVERNMENT FORMS, IT COULD BE FOR JOB-SEEKING, WE TRY TO HELP GUIDE THEM THROUGH THAT PROCESS. SO WE REALLY SEE OURSELVES AS A LEADER AND GUIDE IN USING TECHNOLOGY. LETTING PEOPLE EXPLORE AND TRY OUT NEW TECHNOLOGIES. WE'RE VERY EXCITED IN THE UPCOMING YEAR, 2021, WE'RE HOPING TO HAVE A NEW BRANCH AVAILABLE WITH A SPACE IN IT, SOMETHING LARGER LIBRARIES HAVE HAD, 3 D PRINTING, ROBOTICS, CODING, THESE TYPE OF THINGS. SO EVEN THOUGH WE MAY BE RURAL, WE'RE VERY MUCH WATCHING TO SEE WHAT OTHER LIBRARIES DO, LOOKING AT THEIR BEST PRACTICES AND PUTTING THEM IN PLACE WHEN THEY WORK FOR OUR COMMUNITY. SO DEFINITELY TECHNOLOGY IS A BIG PART OF THAT. BUT WE ALSO DO SO MANY THINGS, BOOK CLUBS, PROGRAMMING FOR... YOU KNOW, IT COULD BE BOOK TALKS WITH AUTHORS AND LOCAL EXPERTS, WE REALLY TAP INTO OUR COMMUNITY TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER TO LEARN MORE AND TO ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE OF RURAL LIVING, CONNECTING WITH NEIGHBOURS IS A BIG THING THAT WE DO.

Steve says VICKERY, FOR YOU, BEYOND THE OBVIOUS OF LOANING MILLIONS OF BOOKS OUT EVERY YEAR, WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST SERVICES YOU PROVIDE TO THE COMMUNITY?

Vickery says WELL, CERTAINLY, ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY AND THE INTERNET. AND I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, LIBRARIES HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT THIS FOR A LONG TIME. BUT WHAT THE PANDEMIC HAS REALLY AMPLIFIED ARE THE DIGITAL INEQUITY, THE DIGITAL DIVIDE. AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN CUT OFF, DIGITALLY DISCONNECTED BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO COMPUTERS AND WI-FI AND INTERNET, AND SO IN FACT WHAT WE'VE BEEN DEVELOPING ARE INTERNET CONNECTIVITY KITS AND WE GIVE PEOPLE A LAPTOP, A WI-FI HOT SPOT WITH TWO YEARS OF UNLIMITED DATA AND A LAPTOP BAG, AND WE GIVE THEM THIS LAPTOP. THIS IS... AGAIN, WE'VE DONE THIS THROUGH OUR PARTNERS AND THROUGH OUR FOUNDATION'S SUPPORT, AND WE'VE DISTRIBUTED ABOUT 400 OF THEM. WE HAVE 1,000 WI-FI HOT SPOTS. WE DISTRIBUTE THOSE TO PEOPLE. PEOPLE DON'T, ESPECIALLY IN A BIG CITY LIKE TORONTO, EVERYONE ASSUMES, OH, EVERYONE HAS ACCESS TO COMPUTERS AND INTERNET ACCESS. NOT TRUE. PEOPLE LINE UP TO USE OUR SCANNERS AND PRINTERS AND COMPUTERS. WHEN WE WERE CLOSED, IT WAS A HUGE PROBLEM FOR PEOPLE NOT TO HAVE ACCESS TO THOSE RESOURCES. YOU THINK ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO TALK TO YOUR CASE WORKER, CONNECT WITH YOUR CHILDREN'S SCHOOL, BEING ABLE TO LOOK FOR A JOB, BE ABLE TO GET HEALTH INFORMATION. ALL OF THAT IS ONLY AVAILABLE THROUGH THE INTERNET AND DIGITAL RESOURCES, AND THEN OF COURSE GOVERNMENT RESOURCES. A HUGE PERCENTAGE OF LIBRARY USE IS PEOPLE WHO COME INTO THE LIBRARY TO ACCESS E-GOVERNMENT. AND SO IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO BE ABLE TO PROVIDE THOSE RESOURCES FOR PEOPLE AT A TIME AS CRITICAL, ESPECIALLY NOW, WHEN PEOPLE HAVE LOST THEIR JOBS, THEY'RE WORRIED ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN IN SCHOOL, AND THERE'S ALL THIS ONLINE LEARNING THAT'S HAPPENING. PEOPLE NEED ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY. THEY NEED ACCESS TO THE INTERNET. AND THEY NEED ACCESS TO PEOPLE WHO CAN HELP THEM USE THAT TECHNOLOGY. AND THAT'S WHAT LIBRARY STAFF DO EACH AND EVERY DAY. THEY'RE EXPERTS IN THIS AREA. AND THE LIBRARY IS AN IDEAL PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO COME TO, EITHER IN-PERSON OR VIRTUALLY, TO GET THE RESOURCES THEY NEED TO BE SUCCESSFUL AND TO MAKE THEIR WAY THROUGH WHAT IS A VERY DIFFICULT TIME FOR EVERYONE.

Steve says VICKERY, WE'RE DOWN TO OUR LAST COUPLE OF MINUTES HERE AND I DID WANT TO RAISE ONE MORE KIND OF SENSITIVE ISSUE WITH YOU, WHICH IS THAT ANYBODY IN THE BIG CITIES WHO GOES TO A PUBLIC LIBRARY... OURS IS TWO BLOCKS NORTH OF HERE, I'M THERE QUITE FREQUENTLY... AND ONE SEES HOMELESS PEOPLE THERE. THIS MAY BE THE ONE PLACE IN THE COURSE OF THEIR DAY THAT THEY'RE GOING TO BE ABLE TO HANG OUT WHERE IT'S NICE. YOU KNOW, IT'S A NICE PLACE TO BE, BUT OF COURSE WITH HOMELESSNESS COMES OTHER ISSUES THAT YOUR STAFF MAY NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH WITH OTHER PATRONS. AND I GUESS MY QUESTION FOR YOU IS: YOU KNOW, HOW WELL-TRAINED ARE YOUR STAFF TO DEAL WITH THE PROBLEMS THAT COME WITH HOMELESS PATRONS THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH WITH OTHERS?

Vickery says WELL, YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IS THAT WE WELCOME EVERYONE WITHOUT JUDGMENT, AND WE WELCOME PEOPLE TO COME INTO THE LIBRARY AND WE SERVE THEM IN WHATEVER WAY WE CAN. A FEW YEARS AGO, WE HIRED A SOCIAL WORKER. WE'VE NEVER HAD A SOCIAL WORKER ON STAFF BEFORE AND WE HAVE ONE NOW. AND THE SOCIAL WORKER DOESN'T WORK WITH THE PUBLIC DIRECTLY. THE SOCIAL WORKER WORKS WITH OUR STAFF AND TO PROVIDE THEM WITH GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES THAT THEY NEED TO SERVE THEIR CUSTOMERS AND MANY TIMES THEY ARE CONSULTING OUR SOCIAL WORKER ABOUT HOMELESS ISSUES. WE ALSO HAVE A TREMENDOUS NETWORK OF COMMUNITY PARTNERS THAT WE WORK WITH AT THE CITY AND OTHER AGENCIES IN THE COMMUNITY THAT WE CONNECT WITH THEM WHEN WE HAVE... WHEN WE HAVE PEOPLE IN THE BRANCH WHO ARE HOMELESS AND NEED SUPPORT. AND WE ALSO DELIVER PROGRAMS DIRECTLY TARGETING HOMELESS PEOPLE, TO HELP THEM IN ANY WAY WE CAN. AGAIN, IT COULD BE A BOOK DISCUSSION, OR IT COULD BE SOME OTHER KIND OF DISCUSSION GROUP. BUT THAT'S WHAT WE DO BECAUSE PEOPLE WHO ARE HOMELESS ARE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY AND THEY DESERVE TO BE SERVED JUST LIKE ANYONE ELSE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Sandra Gionas, @sandragionas."

Steve says THAT'S VICKERY BOWLES FROM THE TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY, AND VICKI STEVENSON FROM THE RIDEAU LAKES PUBLIC LIBRARY. IT'S REALLY GOOD OF BOTH OF YOU TO SPEND SO MUCH TIME WITH US ON TVO TONIGHT. MANY THANKS.

Vickery says OUR PLEASURE.

Vicki says THANK YOU.

Watch: Libraries in the Time of COVID-19