Calgary Public Library puts in place new measures amidst COVID-19

Get Your Books Now: The contactless pickup service is now set up at the Central Library in Calgary. The service allows people to book holds online and collect them at all library locations. (Photo by Spardha Mehta/The Press)

Despite the closure of all Calgary Public Library locations to help limit the spread of COVID-19, library staff continue to work with enthusiasm to provide Calgarians with services but online.

Stage 2 of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy started June 12. The opening of public libraries was permitted, but the Calgary Public Library decided to remain closed to ensure more time to implement its plans for protecting the health and safety of visitors and staff.

“The library still needs a little bit more time because bringing back staff, getting our facilities up and running, and of course clearing our backlog books are all the things that we’re working on right now,” said Mary Kapusta, director of communications at Calgary Public Library.

The library will begin opening three locations, Forest Lawn, Crowfoot, and Fish Creek, as a pilot on June 23.

“If all goes well, then we will keep adding services and adding access until all locations are open,” Kapusta said. “But we are pretty confident with public health and safety measures, some new protocols in place, that we are able to provide that service because we know people are really eager to get back in the library.”

While libraries were closed, more people in the city turned online and discovered the incredible digital library that has thousands of resources.

Harshpreet Kaur, a recent Business Administration graduate from Bow Valley College, says the online library has been her go-to place.

“I used so many resources at the library to help finish my course,” said Kaur.

Since the library shut down and she was stranded at home, Kaur took advantage of the online access to books and was happy to finish up her course.

“At first I was worried because I had a list of books I needed from the library to study for my exams, but then I learned that I can access them online and most of my stress went away,” she said.

According to Kapusta, the digital circulation, through the library’s website, reached over 1.2 million since they closed doors on March 16.

“We’ve also had over 38,000 online courses taken, so we know that lots of people are doing everything from learning how to use Microsoft Teams, but also taking photography courses, language courses,” she said.

The digital library has been providing a wide array of resources ranging from watching movies to English learning language programming, yoga classes, author events and upgradation of professional skills.

There is also a lot of science-based learning activities that parents can do at home with their kids.

“In addition to that, we’ve also had virtual story times and lots of recorded content, for instance our baby rhyme time program,” said Kapusta.

Another unconventional resource that people have free access to is a virtual songwriting program being led by Brandi Sidoryk, the library’s songwriter in residence.

Also, starting July 1, the library will be moving to a fine free model. This means that no fines will be given out to anyone for overdue items.

Calgary Public Library also started a contactless curbside pick-up service, called Curbside Holds Service, at most locations.

Amid all the COVID-19 concerns and shift in delivery of service, the library also focused on vulnerable communities who lacked access to the internet.

“We worked with social agencies in the city of Calgary to move 400 Chromebook laptops into the community, specially to support newcomer families and students that needed access to learning,” said Kapusta.

“We’re also working with the school board to understand more about the issues and the limitations there.”

For Kapusta, equitable access to Wi-Fi and equipment is a really big consideration and she hopes that the larger community talks about it more after COVID-19.

For now, the main concern of library officials is how they can open all locations and fulfil the critical role of providing access to Wi-Fi and equipment.

Kapusta thinks that COVID-19 and the measures around it have highlighted how the library meets community needs.

“We’ve been talking for years and years about the role of the library evolving and becoming more of a community hub activated with programming and events, and that will still be a part of post-COVID world,” she said.

Still Shut: A sign alerts people to the closure of Central Library in Calgary on June 17. Despite Stage 2 of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy allowing libraries to open up, the Calgary Public Library decided to stay closed. Three locations opened June 23. (Photo by Spardha Mehta/The Press)