The Haliburton County Public Library Board is allowing the library to continue its upped online services as it navigates through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board held a special meeting over a Zoom call April 8, the first public meeting with local councillors since last month. They discussed how the library was faring with its online and remote services and whether they might continue beyond the pandemic.

Library CEO Bessie Sullivan said programming such as daily online storytime has been popular, attracting thousands of views.

“Over the last three weeks we have taken as many services as possible online,” Sullivan said. “That’s been a fairly frantic, busy process.”

That has included expanding its online collection with discounted offerings from publishers such as online Canadian daily newspapers, offering remote library card renewals and signups, and other livestreamed programming. The extra programming costs have been $9,062 so far, Sullivan reported, but that’s been offset by three employees requesting leave. To maintain the online programming in the months to come, Sullivan said it will require about half the staff.

“We are so far behind in terms of our ability to deliver a lot of online services,” Sullivan said. “What we have done in the last three weeks is probably where we would have wanted to be, prior to this, if we had staff capacity.”

Board member Carol Moffatt said there is a chance to maintain some of the expanded online offerings in the future, though it would take more resources.

“Everybody agrees, there’s probably a really exciting opportunity – pending money of course – to continue to reach out to people with the online stuff,” she said.

However, board members also discussed the limitations and the potential for layoffs once inventory work is finished.

Sullivan said there were some overtime hours as people worked to get the online programming set up, which board member Liz Danielsen said she was concerned about.

“We have to be careful we’re not offering more than we can manage,” Danielsen said. “While I appreciate every effort that’s being made – and it sounds like there are really fabulous opportunities here – we do need to pace ourselves.”

Board member Lynda Buch said public expectations must be managed. When libraries eventually re-open, she said it would be impossible to keep the same level of online programming that is running right now.

Vice-chair Andrea Roberts said the library should keep numbers to determine how valuable it is to keep some programming running.

Moffatt said, for now, it is best to maintain the programming as everyone adjusts during the emergency.

“I would like us not to be too concerned so much about people being annoyed if online program opportunities fall by the wayside after the fact,” she said. “We’re doing that with municipalities, we’re making changes to operations that are not going to be continued or sustainable after the pandemic.”

Board members also decided to put off library advocacy work and strategic planning.

“We’re going to have new ways of doing things,” Roberts said. “It may alter the whole conversation about how we want to go in the next five years.”

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