On February 21st 2020, Sligo County Libraries celebrated National Library Day. This special event aimed to highlight the wide range of services available to library members. With an Ocean FM outside broadcast, storytimes and even a flea circus, it was a day to remember. But just a few weeks later, the pandemic hit and library staff had to quickly change the way they served the community.
Undaunted, the staff have continued to ensure that we have access to reading material, cultural experiences and educational resources despite the current circumstances.
Michelle Brennan from Sligo Central Library kindly filled me in on how the service has been adapting over the past year. Michelle has been especially involved in running the library’s social media channels and website.
eServices at Sligo Library
In recent years, members have had the choice of accessing a wide range of reading material and educational resources in online format. But for part of 2020, and now 2021, the internet became the only way to use library resources. This led to an increase in online users and so the collection of ebooks and audiobooks was expanded to help ease the extra pressure on the system.
According to Michelle, in February 2021 alone, there have been nearly 3000 downloads of ebooks and audiobooks in the county. Compare this to a typical month pre-pandemic, when the average number of downloads would have been a couple of hundred.
As well as ebooks and audiobooks, other free online resources include:
- Universal Class online courses (over 500 introductory courses covering topics such as business, crafts and hobbies, alternative medicine, languages, writing and much more.)
With the transition to online services, many library users found themselves in need of a new set of skills if they wanted reading material. And so, the Access Course was created. This free course takes place regularly on Zoom and aims to help participants become confident users of the online services. Despite some students being anxious about keeping up, Michelle says they usually surprise themselves with their own abilities!
This quote from Mary, a participant on the course, sums it up: “It’s a great service you are providing. I compliment you on delivery of information, it’s at a lovely pace for people who are new to this technology and are just testing the water. Really looking forward to next week’s class.”
As well as the Access Course, instructional videos are available on the library’s YouTube channel.
Services for Children
Children are often the most enthusiastic users of libraries. So when the usual school visits and children’s events had to stop, the library branched out to keep them engaged.
Online storytimes form a large part of this strategy. Initially, these were posted on Facebook, but the difficulty of reading to an invisible audience prompted a move to Zoom. This allowed for greater interaction with children and a more friendly atmosphere.
Toddle Time and Zoom to Storytime have been catering to children at home, while special sessions are also available for schools. Michelle is delighted that these school sessions are building on the already-strong relationships between the libraries and many schools in the county. Some new schools (that could not previously engage with the libraries due to location and distance) are also getting involved.
And it’s not just about books. A broader range of activities has been offered in recent months, including:
- Baby sign classes for parents and babies
- Christmas craft workshops
- Family Fitness
I know some of these resources have been greatly appreciated in my own home, where they have provided entertainment and distraction during lockdown.
Cruinniú na nÓg
Cruinniú na nÓg is a national celebration of children’s creativity which takes place annually and is free of charge. In normal times, the event in Sligo Library branches consists of an action-packed day of workshops and activities for children. Think dance, art, puppets, a flea circus and more! It moved online in 2020 and this year, another exciting online event will happen on Saturday June 12th. It will take the format of a TV show running continuously online from 9.30am to 1pm, with author visits, an escape room and much more.
Activities for adults have been happening too, the most regular event being The Word. These monthly author readings are jointly organised by Sligo Central Library and IT Sligo’s BA (Hons) in Writing and Literature. Pre-COVID, this monthly event typically welcomed well over 100 attendees to the library building.
As well as presenting established authors, The Word also highlights up-and-coming writers to keep an eye on. The night usually ends with an open mic session, where attendees have the chance to share their own words with the group.
Michelle is delighted the event has continued via Zoom and says the different format means writers from further afield can be invited. Live music from local musicians has also been added, as attention spans tend to be shorter at online events.
A flavour of authors featured to date includes Ruth Fitzmaurice, Pat McCabe and Clare Keegan.
Upcoming events are as follows:
- April: Una Mannion, A Crooked Tree
- May: Lucy Caldwell, All The Beggars Riding
These events take place on the last Wednesday of the month at 6.30pm.
If you’re not already a library member, it’s free to join and membership gives you access to resources from any library in the country.
- Sligo Central Library
- Ballymote Community Library
- Tubbercurry Community Library
- Enniscrone Branch Library
- Local Studies and Reference: Michèle Cashman, Local Studies Librarian, is working hard at the moment to help with queries in any way she can.
In-Person COVID-19 Precautions
At times when restrictions allow branches to open physically, a series of measures is in place to ensure everyone’s safety. This includes a change to the layout of the libraries (which unfortunately means that members cannot browse books themselves), outdoor return bins, and a 72-hour quarantining procedure for books.
Michelle regrets that the new system means children, in particular, no longer have the opportunity to discover a “hidden gem” on the shelves. But the staff have been doing their best to help readers discover the best books for them. Members can also request specific books from the national database, ready to collect in their local branch.