As a result of the Province’s latest emergency order, more and more public library employees – management, administrative and frontline – are now working from home. While libraries closed to the public more than a week ago, some staff continued to report to work, while practicing social distancing in the workplace. The latest measures from the Ontario and Canadian governments are aimed at closing workplaces other than essential services, sending as many people as possible home. The leading health experts are unanimous in their pleas for people to go home and stay home as much as possible.
We have been asked if a single staff member can continue to work in a library (to answer the phone and support virtual services). While we have yet to be given a definitive answer to that question, it does not seem advisable to have staff working in the library. The latest advice from the Ministry staff for anyone with more specific questions about what can and cannot be done during the emergency measures (such as staff entering the building to perform admin tasks) should call the Government’s new toll-free line 1-888-444-3659. Launched yesterday, March 25th, this line is dedicated to supporting Ontario ‘businesses’ with questions about the recent emergency order to close at-risk workplaces following recommendations by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
It is important to understand that sending staff home doesn’t necessarily mean laying them off. Setting them up to work from home should be a consideration for every employer. While some positions lend themselves more readily to working from home, with creative thinking, and flexible practices around performance expectations and how staff might keep themselves busy, it is possible to engage staff in meaningful work remotely.
Since we have no way of knowing how long COVID-19 will prevent us from re-opening our libraries, it is imperative for the library board, as the employer, to be prepared to revisit decisions on an ongoing basis. Just to be clear, the board is the legal employer and, as such, only the board has the authority to make decisions around redeployment and lay-offs. Such decisions need to be made in consultation with the CEO, based on the latest information available. As the information and/or the situation changes, so may the decisions.
Many Ontario libraries have had some or all staff working from home for several days now, engaged in meaningful, productive work. Here are some of the types of work staff is doing:
- Virtual programming such as recorded/ live streamed story times and adult programs
- Maintaining the library’s digital collections – increasing limits for materials; promoting and increasing visibility of these collections
- Collection development for digital collections – purchasing new e-books and audiobooks because of increased demand, including buying additional copies to reduce wait times
- Continuously updating access to the latest information on COVID-19, nationally, provincially, and locally
- Information services – people still have questions and are still turning to libraries for answers
- Learning support for children and families during school closures – staff are pulling together free online resources and sharing them on the library’s website and/or social media, offering suggestions for parents
- Social media – promoting library resources but also engaging the community and staying visible, helping them cope with COVID-19 while spending more time at home; promoting mental health resources
- Revising the library’s website – eg, a new page on ‘stuff to do at home’ or ‘free tours and tools from museums and art galleries’
- Membership services, helping people access the library’s virtual resources (removing fines, renewing cards, processing new memberships, etc.)
- Technical help – libraries are offering workshops, tutorials and one-on-one assistance with personal devices and technology needs
- Working on some projects that have been on the back burner because there hasn’t been time, eg, Policy reviews, readers advisory supports, etc.
- Training and Professional development; library staff are using this time to take webinars and online courses, but also explore topics they need to know more about.
Encourage staff to check out LearnHQ for the recorded webinars and online module “What It Means To Be An Active Learner” recently made available for free. In addition, there are other ‘freebies’ available in LearnHQ and elsewhere.
Look for more blog posts in the coming days and weeks, highlighting what other libraries are doing, and providing further information and best practices to support effective board meetings and decision making, staff engagement and learning, and new and emerging virtual services.