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Libraries see spike in digital service use, maintains COVID protocols for physical services

Vancouver Island libraries managed to stay open with limited contact during the pandemic. As they’ve eased back into full access, the demand for digital services is still prevalent.

“[The shutdown caused] an immediate and it’s apparently a sustained sort of reinvigoration of interest in digital resources,” said David Carson, Vancouver Island Regional Library’s Director of Corporate Communication. “We saw a huge spike in the use of accessing everything from ebooks to streaming content, but we think that it’s sustained. So, that’s crazy people coming back to the branches, and I think it’s reflective of the fact that people are sort of feeling safer to come back inside.”

The Nanaimo Harbourfront Library was the first of the 39 branches on the island to go back to full access— with patrons perusing bookshelves or taking advantage of public computers.

When COVID shut down most of the country, patrons would be able to request books and staff would bring their requests via a slot in the door. Partial access was eased, with a walled-off area leading up to the library counter. Now, most libraries across the island are opened completely, with plexiglass safety barriers and a ‘masks required’ sign.

While library staff are sanitizing touch points, Anthony Martin, manager of the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library, states that their concern lies elsewhere.

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“The focus has been on the airborne transmission. We were quarantining items— we still do to a certain extent in the sense that items dropped off here are quarantined. We’re probably quarantining items for twelve hours, but really there’s no there’s no explicit direction we need to do so from CDC. Yeah, safety is paramount here. Masks are required across the branch according to the provincial guidelines.”

Certain devices and machines available for public use are cleaned hourly, such as the 3D printers and book binding machines.

“We do sanitize the machine every two hours or so after use, and generally it’s only staff who are changing the filament or working with it,” said Jonathon Bigelow, program co-organizer and librarian for the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library. “So, the computers that people can access, we make sure we sanitize those in between and then we prepare the 3D prints. We put them in a bag so that they’re separate. Then they’re sitting in a paper bag which has the customer’s name on it when they come to pick it up. We’re not handing them something that we were just touching. Yeah, it’s like a very efficient little business.”

The ‘business’ the library runs with 3D printing keeps their prices low to cover for the cost of material, according to Bigelow.

Access to the library’s digital programs and services are available via a library card, which is free for anyone to sign up for.

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