Possibility of library layoffs broached at board meeting
By Chad Ingram
Whether or not some staff of the Haliburton County Public Library might be laid off during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was discussed during an April 8 meeting of the library board.
The library’s branches have been closed since March 16 amid the outbreak, with the library offering a variety of online services and some staff still working from the buildings using a variety of safety protocols. These include having just one person in smaller buildings, maintaining physical distancing in larger buildings, regular hand-washing and disinfecting of surfaces.
The library system has 17 employees, including five full-time senior staff members, and 12 part-time employees who include branch supervisors, programmers, branch assistants and a courier. Three employees are currently on emergency leave.
“Over the last three weeks, we have taken as many services as possible online,” library CEO Bessie Sullivan told board members. “ . . . We’re just starting to get into the groove now.”
Some programming includes an online version of the library’s Makers series, the planned facilitation of online book clubs, and popular digital daily storytime (Monday through Friday) starring the HCPL’s library assistants. The library is also assisting partner organizations with their online programming. In addition to creating online programming, staff are also performing a variety of tasks including inventory, the cancellation and re-organization of certain services, setting up systems to facilitate working from home, community outreach, etc. According to Sullivan, who said full-time staffers have been working more than full-time organizing the transition process, all of that work should last about three months.
“These are trying times for all agencies and organizations,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, noting the situation is the same for municipalities, particularly when it comes to some part-time staff. “Depending how long this goes, there’s not going to be a need for those folks.”
Moffatt wondered what the plan was for the library.
“I think we would mimic the [county] process,” Sullivan said. After a three-month period, should the situation remain as it currently is, “we would continue to need at least half the staff,” Sullivan said.
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said in his estimation, the situation as it is was likely to last until at least late June.
“That should be a question we should seriously consider at the time,” Ryall said.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts thought any conversation regarding layoffs was premature for the time being.
“You just don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself,” Roberts said, adding that government directives and the general situation regarding COVID-19 changing on basically a daily basis. “We only know what we know today.”
There was also some talk of the possible secondment of library employees for purposes elsewhere within the county, similar to processes happening in some other municipalities.
County Warden Liz Danielsen said there’s been no such discussion at the county level as of yet.
The digital storytimes have been very popular, garnering as many as 3,000 views, Sullivan said. There was some question of possibly decreasing the frequency of them as school-aged children begin an online learning curriculum in place of attending school, but Sullivan indicated they were largely intended for toddler-aged kids. “It’s for people who are stuck at home entertaining kids,” she said.
Ryall said he thought the library should be doing all it could to assist parents cooped up at home with children, and Moffatt questioned perhaps continuing some of the popular digital offerings even after the pandemic is over. Sullivan said that would require additional resources.
While the library has asked that patrons with materials keep them at home for the time being, Sullivan said materials do continue to get dropped off, and staff handle them with gloves and sanitized wipes.
The situation has also led to a rise in the borrowing of e-books.
“March actually had the biggest circulation of e-books we’ve ever had,” Sullivan said.