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Palliser Regional Library survived 2020 despite ‘tremendous upheaval’ and change

'We were able to roll with the punches, basically. And we continued to offer good service to the general public'
Palliser Annual Report 2020
The graphic on the front of the 2020 annual report of Palliser Regional Library. Photo courtesy Palliser Regional Library

The cover of Palliser Regional Library’s 2020 annual report features a cartoon graphic of an angry-looking COVID-19 molecule, which could be an apt summary of how most people felt last year.

The report was presented during the organization’s online annual meeting on April 30. 

“How do I describe last year? It was unique, but we survived very well … ,” said director Jan Smith. “We were able to roll with the punches, basically. And we continued to offer good service to the general public.”

A year of “tremendous upheaval” prompted rapid change and growth for Palliser Regional Library (PRL), she remarked. This included creating a digital academy, which featured beginner and intermediate tutorials on topics such as technology, social media and the library’s online resources. 

Even with these adaptations, the pandemic still “screwed up our programming,” chuckled Smith. But, branch employees became creative and offered different online programs and take-home activity kits to help people connect. 

While most people want to return to normalcy, many patrons have enjoyed the digital academy and like reading books online, she continued. For example, in March 2021, 1,004 patrons took an online class about using Ancestry.ca. 

“That was like, ‘Holy (cow).’ We’re starting to figure out what stars aligned because we’d like to repeat that … ,” laughed Smith. 

PRL received a $20,000 grant last year for a one-year project through the digital academy. The money will enable PRL to create tutorials to help people in Coronach find new jobs and reintegrate into the workforce due to layoffs at the mine and pending closures of the coal-fired power plants. 

The program has also been expanded to include pandemic-related layoffs. 

Curbside book pick-up has become popular in rural communities, Smith said. Some farmers could come into town and grab their materials from a garbage can next to the library building. 

In Moose Jaw, though, it’s a mixed bag since patrons seem to like curbside pick-up, in-person check-outs, and online book selections. Curbside service has been “very, very (labour) intensive,” Smith said, since staff must print out a list of books or think of selections for patrons and then spend 10 to 15 minutes finding each book. Then it takes time to make arrangements for when people will pick up their item.

“As you can see, it takes a lot longer than people being free to come into the library, pick up what they want, and go,” she added.

PRL saw a trend with library card use last year. It became common for households to use one card when checking out materials rather than families checking out items on separate cards. Smith believes this is partially due to Palliser’s pandemic guidelines that encouraged only one household member to attend a library appointment. 

Service data

Last year, Palliser’s branch libraries circulated and renewed 176,139 physical materials and 205,625 digital materials, for a total of 381,764 items, according to the annual report. 

The organization’s collection size grew slightly last year to 303,076 items, compared to 302,086 pieces in 2019. 

There were 11,063 active patrons in 2020, compared to 12,642 active users the year before. 

The total number of cardholders last year was 18,460  compared to 17,599 cardholders in 2019. 

“Given the hardships faced by all communities, no increases were sought to the rural library levy. Palliser has worked very hard to keep the rural library levy the same as last year — (a) $0 increase,” the report added.

The future

Smith thought it was too early to say how the future looks for PRL, especially with the pandemic still affecting communities. However, branch staff have done a great job with online programs and in-person programming that follow health guidelines. 

Smith singled out the branch in Tugaske for its online programs and interesting in-person — but physically distanced — activities, such as laser tag, snowman judging contests, and Christmas light tours.    

New board members

During the PRL’s April 30 annual meeting, new board members elected were Sarah Simison, Jamie Atkins, Shelley Potts-Weigetz and Marian Ramage.