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Library pulling community together despite social distancing

Joanna Howard with Black Cat, conducting a science experience during an online children’s broadcast.

By Andrea Harrison
There might be nothing quite like a pandemic to show the heart of a community. The COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging people to pull together even as they practice social distancing.

One great example of the hard work happening to manage during the pandemic is at the Prince Edward County Public Library. No matter your age, or interests, the people at the library have something to engage, amuse or educate you.

“We miss seeing our patrons and we look forward to the day when our doors are wide open again,” said Barbara Sweet, PEC Library CEO. “We are working to provide our services in different ways though.”

Every day at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday on the library’s Facebook page, there is a live-streamed story time for children run by Joanna Howard, Children and Youth Program Coordinator.

Joanna is a County girl through and through. Working from her home in Waupoos, she faces the same challenges of rural internet that so many County residents do.

“I’m always crossing my fingers and hoping the live-stream works out,” she says.

After finishing library technician schooling Joanna went to work in retail and then was a birth doula. She volunteers as a Girl Guide leader for the Picton troop. All of her experiences have emphasized the need to help people feel better in stressful times.

Joanna’s partner makes live-stream stories possible by helping to manage their two young children. Daily walks with the youngest child gives Joanna space to let her other child take an active role during stories. (Watch for Black Cat when you join a story!)

Despite proclaiming she is not a theatre arts person, Joanna does a great job engaging her audience.

“I was nervous at first to transition our kid’s programs online. After receiving great feedback and pictures of excited and engaged kids watching our programs, I got over that unease in favour of excitement to spark some creativity and joy in the kids at home.”

The Prince Edward County Public Library has built on its online offerings. There is a Makerstation at home program, held Mondays at 10:30 through the Facebook page. This is an opportunity for young people ages 7 – 14 to try experiments with Belicia in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). A little crafty, a lot of learning and even more fun for the youth of the County (and their parents).

Virtual author visits began this month with prize-winning author Katherine Ashenburg. A visit with mystery writer Alan Bradley is now being arranged.

Additional programs include researching the history of your ancestors, Functional Fitness, Spanish language programs and many more.

Liz Zylstra, responsible for Collection, Outreach & Programs points out, “one of the positive side effects of moving these programs online is that we can record them and make them available later for people who can’t make it to the scheduled time.”

As many people are turning to technological solutions to cope with social isolation, the library is assisting by helping people with their tech questions. Michele Gardner led a session on using the library’s online services.

Workshop attendance was great and Michele observes, “I’ve been so impressed by patrons’ response to our online presence. We have been able to assist them in accessing free e-books, audiobooks, movies and more. It is heartening to see that we can still keep in touch with our community even while social distancing. We can provide educational programs to help those who are trying to use their devices to stay connected.”

Joanna sums up all the hard work the Prince Edward County Public Library is doing.

“What I love about libraries is that they are all access community hubs. When I am running programming for children, especially small children, I know that 50 per cent of it is for kids, and 50 per cent of it is a social outing for the parents.”

Strong connections and hard work means programs are designed for all residents. Creating a sense of community in this time is challenging. But as Joanna says, “it’s not perfect, but it’s improving and we’re all learning together, which is really fun.”

Click to visit the Prince Edward Public Library website for details on all its programs, including Ancestry, Hoopla and Kanopy. Live chat is also available on the website.

Click here to join in on library programs (or watch previous videos) on its Facebook page.

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