The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely reshaped the lives of so many of us. One of the challenges of this social, economic and health transformation has been the fact that at some libraries, staff have had to cope with the shutdown of their workplaces while following through with plans or activities that were well in the works prior to the restrictive public health measures that took place last spring.
For those of us working at the Temiskaming Shores Public Library, this reality has meant completing a significant restructuring project at the same time that we have pivoted to providing more online services and programs. So we’ve been in recovery mode in more ways than one.
Phase I: Packing up and moving out
As COVID-19 lockdown measures took place in early March, the library staff here in Temiskaming Shores was preparing for a huge amalgamation and move to combine two library branches into a single location in a newly renovated building.
The amalgamation of the two library branches was the result of strategic priorities set by the Library Board, which were designed to rectify issues of accessibility and space in the branches. Over the course of eight years, the Board worked with members of the city council to identify the shortcomings of library facilities and the costs that would be incurred from two possible solutions: resolving the issues in the current buildings and identifying new facilities.
In addition to this process, in 2018 the Board conducted a series of community consultations to help guide it’s review of community library service delivery. The Board presented the results to members of the city council and together, the groups decided to create a single branch that would be housed in a city building that was unused and soon to be renovated. The difficult decision was made to amalgamate the library branches and was informed by the need to lessen the taxpayer burden of the renovation costs.
As part of the amalgamation agreement, the Library Board created a partnership with the Northern College Campus Library in Haileybury to ensure the delivery of public library service in that area of the municipality that was losing a library branch. The move to our newly renovated location was to have occurred in April, but the lockdown measures caused a significant delay. Instead of finishing the move in April, we took up residence in our new space in June.
Library staff spent the initial weeks of the pandemic on two main projects: working from home to ensure greater access to e-resources for our library patrons, and packing up our two branches.
The two library branches were located in each of the former municipalities of New Liskeard and Haileybury. The New Liskeard Branch was located in a 1910 Carnegie building in downtown New Liskeard. The building is beautiful, however the library service had long since outgrown the building. Additionally, issues with the structure and the lot size of the building made it very difficult and costly to make accessible. The Haileybury Branch was located eight kilometers to the south along Lakeshore Road. Although this branch was slightly larger than the New Liskeard branch, it was one third as busy and not fully accessible either.
The new location is in a former medical clinic building in a central shopping spot in the former town of New Liskeard, close to downtown and on a bus route. The building is twice the size of the former New Liskeard branch, is accessible and has a large programming room. Library Board members were very satisfied with the location choice, and happy that Northern College in Haileybury agreed to the contract to provide public library service to the southern part of the municipality, including computer and wifi use from their campus library.
As measures started to lift in April and May, we sold off the empty shelving and other items we were not using from both branches, properly set up the new shelving in our new location, and prepared for moving day.
The sales of assets were mostly made through word of mouth and on Facebook Marketplace. Most items sold very quickly, even our two large circulation desks! They both sold to local businesses, who are using them in their stores. It was nice to see the library’s unused furnishings go to good use.
On June 23 and 24, a small crew made up of municipality and library staff members moved all of the furnishings and around 1,000 boxes of books and supplies over the course of the two days.
Phase II: Unpacking & carrying on
Our unpacking began in a building that was still being renovated and without air conditioning. Being careful to remain physically distant to each other, we unpacked sections of books with one staff member in a call number area.
It truly was a team effort.
Days of unpacking and rearranging were interspersed with days of working from home, catching up on paperwork and resting from the hard physical labour! Finally, on August 4, we were able to start up a curbside pickup service. We then brought back our full staff complement on August 24. It was wonderful to have all of our nine staff members back to help us settle into our new home.
Over the next week, the final touches were put on the building renovations and our local art gallery, the Temiskaming Art Gallery, graciously came to hang the artwork from both branches that we had brought with us. We finally opened fully to the public on Tuesday, September 8, and are planning a grand opening for later in the year when COVID-19 restrictions allow.
When I look back on the summer I am overwhelmed by the incredible work done by municipal, library and the contracting construction staff to make this move happen. Even under “normal circumstances”, this was a big job. During this pandemic, with all the restrictions placed on workplaces, this project was even more challenging.
However, each team was focused on making the amalgamation a success, despite the confusing and uncertain times in which we were working.
Rebecca Hunt is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the Temiskaming Shores Public Library. She is a Northern Caucus representative on the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries board of directors, and chairs the Northern Lights Library Network as well as sitting on a number of other provincial and local boards and committees. Rebecca can be contacted at rhunt [at] temiskamingshores.ca