Tips for Public Libraries During Closures from FOPL and OLA

The province has closed all Ontario Public Libraries due to the COVID-19 Virus Official Emergency. In addition, among other places, all schools, public daycares, and community centres are closed in Ontario. 

There are a number of positive actions our public libraries can undertake.  This is a great opportunity for public libraries to promote their roles in a province-wide crisis like our great work in the past during a local flood, icestorm, blackout, earthquake, or tornado.  We can continue to be the helpful glue that holds communities together. Libraries can reinforce our roles in information literacy, school support, digital services, online programs including e-learning and virtual book clubs, and so much more.  Think about all of your users and develop strategies – seniors, school-age kids, tweens and teens, adults, local indigenous members, parents, the homeless, mentally ill, and more. Also support local businesses that remain open and serve as an information hub.  Also consider promoting telephone and e-mail reference (do your phones forward to other numbers?).

Even while physically closed, there are a variety of services public libraries can do and change, in a positive way, ur communities success during this stay-at home tome.

Clearly and prominently communicate what services your public library is able to offer:

Checklist: is the following information prominently displayed on your web site and social media? 

  • How to renew a library card.
  • How to get a library card (or online access) if the library is closed. 
  • Status of your book returns 
  • Status of ILL
  • Promote any WiFi access outside your branches in parking lots, etc.
  • What resources can be accessed digitally? (e-learning courses, e-books/e-magazines/audiobooks, virtual reference, etc.)
  • How can digital resources be accessed? 
  • Information about loaning periods and overdue fines.
  • Information about sanitizing spaces and books.
  • How to contact staff by phone or email.  
  • Authoritative pandemic resources and community information.
  • At home activities for families and more available from the public library.  

Planning with your municipality:

Public libraries are governed by an independent board but may follow similar staff policies and procedures to their local municipality. CEOs will ensure effective communications with their staff and cardholders, and communities.  Any staff and CEO issues are the sole responsibility of the local library board by law (PLA). 

FOPL and OLA are communicating with our Ministry to ensure your public library board can, during emergencies, should they choose to, participate electronically in open and closed meetings may be counted for purposes of quorum. As it stands today police boards, school boards and library boards were left out of the recent legislation

Family Programming:

March 16 – probably indefinitely, all of Ontario’s publicly funded and private schools are also closed. colleges and universities are closed or have asked students and teachers to work remotely.  All attractions like sporting events, clubs, community centres, galleries, museums, theme parks, etc. are closed.

The national and provincial emergencies declared today applies to libraries.  Note that the Ontario government’s powers only allow for two week emergencies.  You can likely expect extensions on a bi-weekly basis.

Program ideas: 

Consider promoting online resources in a curated way. Feature specific activities and resources on the web site, by email or social media posts:

  • Virtual story time (lots of publishers have opened up rights!)
  • Virtual reference services
  • Learn a language
  • Online book clubs
  • Genealogy projects (Ancestry has opened distance access for some libraries…)
  • Virtual Museum, Zoo, Garden, and Art Gallery tours
  • Local walking trails
  • Homeschooling (Khan Academy and its ilk)
  • Exercising at home
  • Board Games
  • Structured outdoor games (Remember Relievio Hopscotch, Skipping, etc.?  Channel your own kid-hood! Just encourage physical distancing.)
  • Age- and grade-appropriate workbooks or other school-oriented items that you can print off from the internet.
  • Recipes children can do with supervision
  • Any kind of cooking lesson – some folks are going to struggle with food source closures.
  • Educational colouring downloads.
  • Of course, e-books, audiobooks, video-games, e-magazines, etc.

FOPL has opened up its entire OpenMediaDesk Facebook group and populated it with hundreds of ideas for website and social media postings and virtual programs.  Please feel free to join the FOPL OpenMediaDesk Facebook Group.

Internal/operational considerations:

  • Evaluate how you will empty book-drops and whether your library can shelve or hold three weeks worth of returns or more.
  • Leave your WiFi on and point it outdoors if you can.
  • Stay connected to SOLS, OLS-N, and OLA. FOPL will be posting activities to consider adding their blog (, Stephen’s Lighthouse, and social media (Facebook and Twitter @FOPLnews, @sabram, @SOLSlib, @OLSNorth, @ONLibraryAssoc, ).
  • Virtual Messaging and Programming Ideas for Library Physical Closures
  • Keep in touch with our Library Service Agencies as they negotiate temporary terms with some of our online database and eBook providers.
  • Review any savings that may be happening during this period and see where they could be applied for good (e-resources? Facebook or Twitter local ads? Tech for staff homeworkers?, etc.)
  • LearnHQ and other staff training resources and free webinars are out there and ready to go.  Consider having your supervisors and staff create learning paths for stay at home employees!

Let’s Do It and Shine

Our sector has spent many years building an incredible digital presence and staff competencies!  Let’s shine and be a positive force for happiness, social change and addressing learning, social isolation, and quality information!  You can depend on FOPL and OLA to share thi with our funders (we have already!). Long term our sector will come through this tunnel stronger!

We’re here for you. Please share this e-mail with the appropriate staff working from home or practicing (voluntarily) physical distancing at your sites.