2020. A year like any other. A year where nothing unusual happened…
That’s not true, is it. None of us will ever forget 2020. Of course, in Guernsey we’ve been astonishingly fortunate compared to most of the rest of the world, and we are all so grateful to Dr Brink and her hard-working Public Health team, the States of Guernsey Comms team, and every key worker on the island for all they’ve done to keep us safe this year (they must be exhausted!) Thanks to their efforts we’ve been able to operate a normal library service since late June, putting us in an almost unique position in the British Isles, and perhaps in Europe.
But it has nonetheless been a challenging year. The Library was closed for 73 days from Monday 23 March til Thursday 4 June, by far the longest closure in our 138-year history (we didn’t even close during the Occupation).
What made shutting the doors particularly painful was that with people stuck at home and many feeling isolated, the library service was arguably needed as much as it had ever been. So we did our best to adapt, moving events like rhyme times and reading groups online, and launching a contactless Home Delivery Service for the over-70s and those in most need. Our staff delivered books, audiobooks, DVDs and jigsaw puzzles to many hundreds of households in April, May and June, and we know this made a real difference to many people. One person wrote: “Thank you so much for the delivery of my library books this afternoon, you have made my day. I live alone and have run out of books to read, so this is very welcome.”
The Home Delivery Service continues for people self-isolating or otherwise unable to get to the Library.
The Library was closed for 73 days from Monday 23 March til Thursday 4 June, by far the longest closure in our 138-year history (we didn’t even close during the Occupation).
Library Assistant Patrick Ogier heading out for another lockdown delivery
Knowing that many people were in desperate need of reading material, during lockdown we also made a big push to expand and promote our digital collections, seeing big increases in usage. eBook loans rose more than 30%, with checkouts for digital newspapers up 75%, and digital magazines up 92%.
The move to Phase 4 meant we were able to re-open our doors on 4 June, albeit with a reduced service and strict social distancing measures in place. But then Phase 5 began on 20 June and we were delighted to bin the barrier tape and welcome everyone back to the Library properly – we even got some rainbow balloons to celebrate. It was truly a joyful day.
Dinosaur fan Oliver was the first child back in the Children's Library after lockdown - and he was in for a surprise!
Before any of us had ever heard of words like ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’, the year had started normally enough in January with a packed schedule of events. A sold-out Drag Queen Story Hour was followed by two events to mark the 70th anniversary of George Orwell’s death, while throughout January we were very pleased to team up with Art for Guernsey to host Double Window, an exhibition of artworks produced by inmates of Guernsey’s prison.This year our Outreach Team have worked hard to expand their provision to the prison, running one-to-one sessions for inmates struggling with literacy and making recordings of inmates reading stories to their children for the Storybook Dads scheme.
In February we joined many other libraries around the world in abolishing fines for overdue books. Worrying about fines was enough to put some people off using the service, and this was something we were determined to change. The news was met very positively, and indeed many people came out of the woodwork with library books they’d had at home for a long time – some as long as six years!
Also in February, our Schools Team organised another successful Book Week, bringing children’s authors Ross Montgomery, Paul Cookson and Andy Lane over to the island (before the days of quarantine!) for a string of school visits and a special event at the Library.
Fun times in Book Week with visiting poet Paul Cookson. Photo credit: Paul Chambers
Speaking of children’s events, the lifting of lockdown meant we were almost alone in the British Isles in being able to run a normal programme of children’s activities over the summer holidays, including the Summer Reading Challenge, in which more than 1600 children took part. Special events this summer included Story Time with Dr Brink, hero of the island’s pandemic response, who reprised her famous reading of Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and A Squeeze and answered questions from the children in attendance.
Story time with Dr Brink
September saw the unveiling of our new-look Story Tower. A generous donation from the Sarah Groves Foundation went a long way towards funding a full refurbishment, making the room at the top of the Library much more accessible and transforming it into a truly magical storytelling space. Children seem to agree – more than 1,000 visited us in the first two weeks of December for Christmas stories and were thrilled with their trip up to the Story Tower.
The first event in the new-look Story Tower
Children’s activities took centre stage again in October half term, including busy sessions of autumn crafts at our community libraries, some Marvel-ous superhero stories in the Children’s Library, and a spooky Halloween Story Walk.
A spooky story walk on Halloween. Photo credit: Guernsey Press
In November we relaunched Late Night Library after an 8-month pause due to lockdown, meaning the Library is once again open til 9pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One of the key reasons for keeping the Library open late is to cater for people studying, and in this regard the response so far has been hugely positive, with students all but hanging off the ramparts at times.
Throughout the year our Outreach Team have been working to develop a programme of events in care homes and other settings like the Guernsey Alzheimer’s Association Centre. At Tea & Tales sessions people make friends, talk about books and listen to readings of famous stories like The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. It’s been great to see people engage with these readings – after one visit, a care home staff member wrote to us to say, “I was really encouraged by your visit and I can see how storytelling unlocks doors that are usually closed”– and that’s what it’s all about!
So that was 2020. Here’s to 2021 – hopefully a much better year for planet Earth, and doubtless another busy one for the Library.