The Fernie Public Library is offering many services to keep residents reading during the COVID-19 pandemic. File Photo

Elk Valley libraries move to online delivery of services

Audio books, e-books, online courses and virtual programs spike in popularity during pandemic

Though libraries in the Elk Valley are closed to public access, each branch has devised a number of creative initiatives to keep residents reading during isolation.

While the Sparwood Public Library’s doors remain shut, many of their classes and services have moved online.

As stated on the government of British Columbia’s website, the province funded public libraries with $3 million to increase their e-book and audio book collections to promote literacy despite the pandemic. According to Jim Bertoia, head librarian at the Sparwood Public Library, the Sparwood Public Library has since sent out a public request for e-book and audio book recommendations, garnering many suggestions for children’s titles such as The Magic School Bus series, and the Chronicles of Narnia.

In terms of their weekly preschool story time sessions, Joanne Plesman and Serina Paul have continued carrying out the program by posting video recordings to the Sparwood Public Library’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, the class’ craft component is not currently offered due to lack of supplies. To keep kids further entertained in isolation, Shauna Salmon’s Young at Art afternoon program is also offered virtually. In these classes, preteens learn about various art techniques via videos also posted to their Facebook page.

With more free time on hand, a number of locals have been signing up for the library’s online Gale courses, offered by the publisher Gale-Cengage. The month long interactive courses cover topics ranging from bookkeeping and accounting, to basic computer skills and personal development in journal writing. All library card holders in good standing are eligible to participate in the courses at no cost.

While COVID-19 has required many organizations and businesses to dramatically shift their operations, Bertoia mentioned that the pandemic’s push to shift to virtual services has greatly increased the Sparwood Public Library’s online engagement.

“This coronavirus pandemic has forced libraries to promote their online resources. A lot of the online resources have been on the back burner at our library, and many people are learning about them for the first time. We now have ‘Overdrive’, a province wide database of e-books and audiobooks which are free for temporary download on a person’s tablet, e-reader, home computer or even smartphone,” said Bertoia.

Also helping to ensure people keep reading during the pandemic is the Sparwood Public Library’s curbside pickup service. To use the service, readers can either place holds on specific titles via the library’s catalogue on their website, or call a librarian. To maintain utmost hygiene, the library sanitizes and separately bags each book. The books are then left in front of library doors for pick up, and are returned as per usual through their book drop. All returned books are later washed and quarantined before returning to shelves. To supplement their efforts, the Sparwood Public Library is not charging overdue fees at the moment as well.

“It is important, especially for children, [to keep reading] because being out of school for a long period of time means they may start to lose their reading and comprehension skills, and it may set them back once they return to school,” said Bertoia. “For adults it is important too, mainly to get their minds off of the stress of being ‘cooped up’ at home and the pressures that this pandemic has placed on us all.”

In an effort to abide by social distancing regulations, the Elkford Public Library is also closed to the public, however they are unable to offer print materials at this time. As a result of the closure, they are asking patrons to hold on to their library books until doors reopen. All fines will also be waived.

Despite not being able to offer print versions, the Elkford Public Library has a number of virtual reading resources available. Through the RB digital links on their website, patrons have access to over 10,000 e-books, audiobooks, magazines, and independent films. The Elkford Public Library website also offers over 35,000 titles through Library2go, both of which are available with a valid library card. For those without a valid card, TumbleBooks selections remain available, including AudioBookCloud and RomanceBookCloud. Children and teens can also stay busy with activities and books accessible through TumbleBooks, TumbleMath, and TeenBookCloud.

“Reading is not just about learning and developing skills, although these are no doubt important benefits. Reading is a great way to stay mentally active while staying indoors. It can be very pleasurable, calming, and comforting, it can help to alleviate boredom, and it can give readers a window into another world and time with different characters if they are struggling with the isolation that comes along with living through this pandemic,” said Alexandra Faucher, library director of the Elkford Public Library.

Similar to the Sparwood Public Library, the Elkford Public Library is also offering free Gale Courses through their website, as well as access to the Pronunciator program for those interested in learning a new language.

Lastly, while the doors of Fernie’s Heritage Library are closed due to pandemic related restrictions, they have also made various adjustments to ensure that both programs and reading material remain available to the public.

Transitioning their programs online, the Fernie Heritage Library’s Storytime, Toddlertime, and Crafternoon sessions can be viewed on their Facebook page. To allow for continued access to their books, the Fernie Heritage Library initiated a curbside library service, operating Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To use the service, residents are encouraged to place holds on books through their website at Otherwise, interested readers can call, email, or message the library to place material on hold for pick up.

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