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Ups and downs: Library succeeds with reopening, but loses Trunk or Treat

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In the middle of a global pandemic, you have to take the good news with the bad, and local libraries are no exception.

So it is that even as the Fort Frances Public Library Technology officially reopened to the public in a limited capacity last week, word has come from above that it will have to cancel the annual Trunk or Treat celebrations due to COVID-19.

“Trunk or treat is off,” Library CEO Joan MacLean confirmed on Tuesday.

“I got a call this morning from the health unit saying 'you're also responsible for the people lining up to get into the parking lot, and in case that's a big crowd, you're on the hook for that.' So yeah, it's not going to happen.”

The news is particularly disappointing in the wake of reimposed gathering restrictions from the provincial government. Following COVID cases in Ontario dropping for the past few months, in recent weeks numbers have crept up again, and what was initially touted as a regional expanding of restrictions turned into a province-wide order this weekend. While MacLean didn't say whether the new restrictions impacted the health unit's decision, the Trunk or Treat event would have been limited to 25 people outdoors in the event restrictions weren't eased by October's end, leaving how to pull it all off quite the conundrum.

Yet even with the sting of disappointment due to lost opportunities, the library also has recent a success to celebrate. After months of being closed and then limited to curbside pick-up, the library officially reopened to the public last week, and MacLean noted things went as well as they could have hoped.

“So far it's been lovely and quiet,” she said.

“We've had enough to keep us busy. Over our first four hour shift we had 38 people, just enough to keep the staff busy without worrying about overcrowding. We're going to be meeting again on Monday, the staff and I, to go over the last two weeks. They've been a test to see where things are, how much we can expect from patrons coming in to the library, how many patrons we can expect coming in and what our needs really need to be.”

Currently the hours for the library are Tuesdays from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., with curb-side pickup still available to those who would prefer to use it. Patrons to the library are allowed to pick out materials from the shelves and access virtual programs and services, but toy and play areas in the children's sections are still restricted, as are the library's seating areas, periodicals and computers.

The library will also have to adapt to the change in gathering sizes, but MacLean said that she isn't too worried, as the library's own plans keep the number of people allowed inside at any one time to a minimum that is in line with restrictions, with a larger number of library patrons cycling through the building over the course of the day. As restrictions begin to ease again, MacLean said the library will scale their operations up in a safe and measured way as well.

“We're having just the right amount for the size of the building and how ready we are,” she said.

“I was advertising for new staff back in March and we closed down before anyone could answer, so I'm still kind of behind the 8-ball, but now I'm hiring. I'm a little short-handed for now so we are looking to hire and then we'll be going up, so hopefully the province's guidelines are going to be going up as well, even though we're having a bit of an outbreak, it seems.”

MacLean noted that so far the people who have accessed the library during the reopening have been compliant with all the new regulations and requirements, and she encouraged anyone coming to the library to take the time to ensure they are aware of what might be different from the last time they were there.

“Just be aware of the new rules,” she asked.

“We do have signs around and you can see it on social media as well. We do have a list of things that are available. We do have a lot that we are offering. Just really pay attention to the signage and pay attention to the places that aren't yet open.”

MacLean also extended her thanks to the community for being patient with the library and its staff as they learned to negotiate the new normal we've all found ourselves living in, adding that as long as the community works together with the library, things can continue to run smoothly and improve.

“We've had no problems with people wearing masks, the social distancing and not staying in the library for too long,” MacLean said.

“But that's something we can be looking at expanding as well when we have our meeting. So thank you to the community for following all o the guidelines and being patient with us, because we're in this together.”

And in that spirit of working with the community, MacLean noted that a library meeting scheduled for this Friday to discuss Trunk or treat will still be going ahead, but instead of the discussion centring around Halloween, it will focus on hearing new ideas from community voices.

“The reason we're still meeting is there's some ladies from the Legion who have some ideas about electronics,” she said.

“So I wanted to give them a hearing and have everyone together. Instead of saying 'let's call everyone now,' we already have the meeting scheduled, so let's go ahead with it and see what they have to say. Then maybe we can build on what they've got and have it more widespread in the community, whatever their ideas are.”

For more information on the library's reopening plans and what services are available, visit their website at ffpltc.ca, the library's Facebook page or call the library at 274-9879.

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