The doors of Melville library in Perth’s southern suburbs might have been closed for weeks, but inside the place is humming with activity as staff dart about delivering material to eager borrowers.
- Demand for library services has surged since the shutdown began in March
- Staff have quickly found innovative ways to offer traditional service digitally
- WA’s state library has provided an internet service for people with no other access
As libraries around the country were forced to shut their doors when isolation started, staff found novel ways to deliver services online and stay in touch with vulnerable members of the community.
Story time TV studio
Program development librarian Jo-Anne Monaghan, sits in a corner meeting room of the library — now converted into a filming studio — and says they are also having a “wonderful time”.
Since the shutdown began, she and her team have recorded 28 children’s story time sessions and 29 baby rhyme times roll out online.
“Normally we’d be doing 23 baby rhyme times and story times a week, in person, so now we are filming,” Ms Monaghan said.
A few weeks ago the team decided to challenge themselves further, with a 35-minute live-streamed teddy bears’ picnic.
Bears in quarantine and live TV
It was a big operation that required a week of practice to perform their songs and lines live, as well as gathering as many bears as they could from staff and then isolating them for a few days to ensure the fur posed no risk.
“We had so much fun that within 15 minutes [of it finishing] we were already planning the next one, a pirate adventure.”
For parents and children stuck at home during the past few months, the library’s efforts have been much appreciated.
Melville mother of three Laura Clapsis said her children had been watching the story time videos avidly each week.
“My kids know all the librarians at Melville so they’ve loved seeing them on the screen and joining in,” she said.
“My two-year-old has especially loved it and has been more engaged than when we go up to real story time.
“All three of the kids loved the teddy bears picnic. It has been watched at least three times and parts of it get repeated back to me on and off.
Renewed love for libraries buoys staff
The renewed interest in libraries has been incredibly heartening, Ms Monaghan said.
“We have had people who had fallen off our books, they were ringing up and wanting to access our online resources again.
“In the past we have been scratching our heads thinking ‘how can we reach these people?’ — they have now come to us, so it’s been fantastic.”
The library has been overwhelmed with demand. A mystery bag service had to be paused after one day when it received 1,000 requests, and 1,200 bags of books have now been delivered.
It’s also had to adapt to new health guidelines — returned books are placed in a chute, then held in marked trolleys for at least 24 hours before being touched, to ensure there is no risk of infection.
Borrowing of digital items doubles
The library is now offering a click and collect service, where borrowers can select from the online catalogue and pick their books from the front door, and massively expanded its online offering.
“Our collections team has put a lot of their budget into buying more e-resources, more e-books and since the lockdown we have doubled the number of e-resources borrowed — audio, movies, digital newspapers.”
Over at the State Library of Western Australia, in dark, half-underground space near the back entrance, a far less colourful, but equally vital service is in operation.
Four computer stations, set far apart, that can be booked for 20 minutes at a time, are offering people who have no other way of going online a place to connect.
The service was put together within three days of the doors closing, and is carefully managed with cleaning regimes and physical distancing in place, state librarian Margaret Allen explained.
“It was recognising that a number of people have no access to the internet, or very limited access,” she said.
“It’s been used as soon as it opened, just a steady stream of people, who have nowhere else to go.”
Upstairs, staff are also working to ensure the researchers who rely on access to the library’s vast collections don’t have to stop work, with the launch of a ‘digitisation on demand’ service, where people can request items to be photographed or scanned and placed online.
Online services adapt rapidly
Like Melville, the state library has seen a huge surge in demand. Membership has increased by 4,000 since it closed on March 23, a record for that time period. A mystery box pick-up service had 2,000 requests in a few days.
Use of Kanopy, a free movie streaming service offered through library membership, has leapt from 207,777 minutes played in February to 449,061 in April.
“We’ve been in the digital space for a long time, but this has really accelerated the services that we have delivered,” Ms Allen said.
“One of the lasting positive legacies will be looking at those services and how we continue to deliver those alongside our in-person services.”
While she doesn’t think the library will ever quite return to normal, cleaning regimes and some distancing are here to stay, she is looking forward to reopening on May 18, albeit with just 20 visitors at one time.