It was a very busy year at the Guelph Public Library even though they were closed for a big portion of it, and many members of the library staff were laid off. In terms of in-person operations, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the library, and library services, hard, but the newly released annual report from GPL tells a more interesting story, a story about why the library is still an essential community service even though it’s not technically “essential.”
“At a time when the world’s attention suddenly focused on staying healthy and staying connected, the people of Guelph discovered – or rediscovered in some cases – how our library system helps people do both,” read a message from the Library Board co-signed by Chair Scott Butler and Library CEO Steve Kraft.
“It is a credit to staff that every new pitfall and every new dictum was met head-on with professionalism and courtesy,” they added. “Staff seamlessly overhauled our services for a new socially-distanced reality. Curbside pickup and online book clubs became the norm. Through the summer when restrictions eased, we modified our physical spaces and once again welcomed patrons.”
By the numbers, there were 1.4 million items check out last year, and over 9,000 people who attended at one of 451 different virtual programs. Those numbers are down from the 2.1 million items checked out in 2019, and 44,000 people attending 1,551 programs, but the library itself was completely closed and inaccessible for two-and-a-half months. Like all public buildings, the library closed on March 16, and did not re-open for curbside pick-up until June 1.
The number of items borrowed in 2020 starts to look better when you add the 338,850 ebooks and audio books that were checked out last year, plus the 311,517 online resource retrievals. There were also 3,308 daily visits to the GPL website on average compared to 2,657 visits in 2019. The library also pivoted to add a number of new services at their branches including virtual classes and programs, grab-and-go collections, curbside pick-up, and access to virtual court services.
There were also 4,330 new library card holders in 2020, so with just over 84,300 in total it can be said that 62 per cent of people in Guelph are now library users. Although the number of new card holders was down in 2020 versus 2019, it wasn’t down by much; there were a little less than 7,000 new card holders in 2019.
“When ‘essential service’ took on new importance, many of us in Guelph came to understand how the Guelph Public Library allowed us to stay healthy while staying connected,” reads the Board statement. “The people of Guelph are fortunate to be served by the incredible staff that make up the Guelph Public Library. I encourage you to come
check us out”