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Phone-a-friend: SOLS helps libraries (pandemic or not)

By Peggy Malcolm

Remember the TV game show, Cash Cab? Contestants could try to answer questions on their own, but if they got stuck, they could phone a friend or shout out to someone passing by. In some ways, the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) is like that friend, the person you can call or turn to for an answer. And now, more than ever, we know that library staff across the province could use a friend as they grapple with offering new or modified services (e.g., curbside pick-up) in response to the pandemic.

Created in the 1970s, the SOLS organization is an agency of the provincial government that has been through many ministry names and served different geographical areas. Today, we are under the wing of the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries and serve southern Ontario.

The staff at the Southern Ontario Library Service are known for their innovative training and having started the EXCEL distance education program back in 1987 when no one in the province wanted to take on distance education. The online certificate program provides an opportunity to acquire and develop core skills in all areas of public library service.  Over the years, nearly 1000 participants have completed the EXCEL certificate program.  Based on feedback, we have offered many in-person workshops and these days, many webinars on topics from Readers’ Advisory to children’s music programs and from change management to using OverDrive. 

Screenshot of the Southern Ontario Library Service website.


As that friend who might know the answer you need, SOLS has consultants on hand to answer specific questions over the phone or by email.  Sometimes we don’t have all the answers, but recognize that there are common questions facing the library community. In these times, like a librarian, we help by connecting people with others struggling with the same issues –to share ideas and information, and figure it out together.  This is why we’ve been the ‘go-to’ organization for professional information.  

When I first started working at SOLS in 1991, there were multiple filing cabinets full of print resources, copies of which could be photocopied and distributed.  We published print resources for both library staff members and for library board members under the banners of Sourcebook, Trustee tips, and the Library Board Development Kit.  Over time, our work has evolved to web-based products in the form of LibGuides which balance curated lists of links to outside resources with updated, electronic versions of our print materials. Topics range from the municipal environment to accessibility and human resources.  As of December 2019, our most searched LibGuide was on policy development.  

It is clear to us that there are situations where library staff or library board members need another person (or resource) to turn to for an answer.  With that in mind, we have been regularly adding blog posts to our “Let’s talk libraries” series on topics ranging from Growing digital collections during COVID-19 to Supporting employee mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and creative program ideas.  We have been running conversations with library staff who need to have a platform to network with their peers, to be able to ask questions and to just find out what is happening in other libraries.  The value we add is simple: it’s about networking, sharing ideas and information. It’s about knowing you can reach out to your SOLS representative who can help find the answer. 

How we’ve been helping during the pandemic

Screenshot of the LearnHQ website, which gives account holders access to online courses, live webinars and a wealth of other resources from SOLS, OLS-North, OLA, FOPL, libraries and other partners.


As all of you are quite aware, in March 2020, life changed for the library world. SOLS reacted quickly to the situation.  A new LibGuide called COVID-19: Resources for public libraries was created, followed shortly after by one called Programming, staffing and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Both resources are fluid documents, with ideas and information added to each one on a regular basis.  You might be able to guess which LibGuides are now our most popular professional resources.  In the past two months, there have been more than 4,000 hits between these two guides! 

You can still “shout out” to SOLS via phone or email with questions you have. And, one day soon, there may be a “street shout out” as we will see folks in person at our networking meetings, workshops or other events.  Until then, just know that we’re always here, on the end of the phone or email.

Peggy Malcolm is a library consultant for the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS).  As part of the SOLS Consulting team, Peggy provides information to library staff and trustees in eastern Ontario on a range of topics. She helps prepare resource materials for the SOLS website such as the Trillium Library sample policies. As the SOLS representative on the Ontario Public Library Guidelines Council, she coordinates accreditation audits for libraries in southern Ontario. Since 2000, Peggy has managed the TD Summer Reading program for SOLS and is the primary contact in southern Ontario for the Ministry’s Annual Survey and Public Library Operating Grant programs.

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