Red Deer’s Linda Otto returns two bags of books to the downtown Red Deer Public Library branch Wednesday. Otto visits weekly and has been missing the books and the interaction since the pandemic forced the library to shutter its doors temporarily in mid-March. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff

Red Deer library users ready to turn page on COVID-19

Local library giving out items that were on hold since COVID-19 shuttered doors

The printed word isn’t dead.

That’s the verdict from Red Deer Public Library users, who haven’t been able to use all of the library services (online services are still available) since the pandemic shuttered the doors of all three branches in mid-March.

Users who had put items on hold before the closure – be it books or DVDs – were finally able to pick them up safely Wednesday. The curbside pick up service continues Thursday and Friday.

Linda Otto, 70, has had a library card since she was six, and visits the library once a week.

Her day may as well be considered incomplete if it doesn’t include some time in her recliner with a book. She prefers loaning physical books from the library, versus paying for them at stores.

The Red Deer resident says she misses her library visits, which include signing out physical books, as well as interaction with the staff.

With the library closed, she has been making do with lending and borrowing books from friends.

Bob Carver, 78, was picking up a non-fiction book he had put on hold before the library had to close due to COVID-19. In the meantime, he has been reading the books he owns.

“I have plenty books at home, but I’ll be happy when they open,” the Red Deer resident said.

The demand for services at the library is high, said CEO Shelley Ross, adding last year, the library circulated half a million physical items.

This week, the library is catching up on its COVID-19 backlog. There are roughly 700 items on hold, which people are expected to pick up. Once that is over, the library will accept new holds for items from the public.

Alberta’s Stage 2 relaunch, set for June 19, includes the opening of movie theatres and libraries.

“I think we learned with Stage 1, that no date is a hard-and-fast date,” said Ross.

“If that is the day the government gives permission, then that is the day we will evaluate our ability to keep everybody safe,” said Ross, explaining the library will need to consider any rules set out, such as limiting the number of people inside at any one time.

One way to keep everyone safe, and give users their fix, she suggested, would be with grab bags – with books picked out by genre or staff recommendations – that people can pick up and go.

Safety is paramount as libraries are high-touch areas, explained Ross.

“And there are many ages and combinations of people, so we have to look at all those things as we stage our reopening.”

With the temporary shutdown of the library branches, demand for online services has gone up.

In March, there were 1,862 audio books signed out, whereas that number went up to 2,555 in April, compared to 2,001 in April 2019.

Numbers are also high for eBooks. In March, there were 3,066 eBooks signed out. That number jumped to 8,383 in April, compared to 4,795 in April of last year.

Ross said there is a seasonal variation between physical and library eBooks as snowbirds switch to eBooks when they’re away and switch back to paper copies once they return.

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