By Sue Tiffin
Library patrons in Algonquin Highlands are closer to having access to books once again.
Residents who use libraries in that municipality have been without library services since March, due to temporary closures of the Dorset book depot and Stanhope library.
At a Nov. 10 library board meeting, Chris Stephenson, CEO of Haliburton County Public Library, gave an update on his investigation into solutions to bring access to books to the area.
Stephenson suggested numerous options that might be put into place until the Dorset Rec Centre mould situation is rectified, and the final work done at the Stanhope branch so it can re-open to the public.
He noted that the Frost Centre trails office is a space that could be used though it’s about 13 kilometres out of town, and so not easily accessible.
“What we’re trying to avoid is people having to take taxis, hitchhiking, walking down the road or biking in winter,” he said. “Libraries in their very nature want to be accessible, and so that’s my only concern about the location.”
Additionally, it isn’t clear if staff would be available in the office for interaction.
Though Stephenson noted a short-term solution is what is needed, he wants that short-term solution to last as long as necessary.
One proposal was for lockers, which would offer 24-7 access to books. They come in different sizes, with typically 12 or 16 slots, and Stephenson estimated two banks of lockers would be necessary to accommodate Dorset library users. Similar to a post office box, patrons would check their box after delivery by courier on their own time, with no need to meet a courier at a specific time. They can be set up outdoors, and opened using a code, for example, the last six numbers of a library card. The lockers promote less interaction and touching compared to in-person library visits, so Stephenson wondered if Safe Restart funding might be accessed, although he noted they cost approximately $1,000, which was considered an affordable option.
Knox Presbyterian Church beside the Dorset post office has been looking for ways in which they can support the community so that option was brought to the table as another alternative.
Stephenson also suggested shipping containers. Previously, he has sat on an international literacy board which would send shipping containers full of books to Africa, where a welder would cut a window and door into the container to create a library. That cost is about $2,200 and Stephenson said the container could be stationed at the Dorset Rec Centre still to allow for parking options and wi-fi access.
While shipping containers aren’t permitted in Algonquin Highlands, as noted by Carol Moffatt, who is mayor of that municipality and sits on the library board, the other options available were discussed with the locker solution attracting the most interest. The lockers would require shelter from inclement weather so the best location for their set-up was considered.
“A couple of things sound like a make-work project, and if we can have a community collaboration, where folks want to help folks, to me that would be the ideal solution,” said Moffatt. “I think that’s certainly what I would like to see. Dorset is a really tight-knit community and has tremendous outreach, and I’d like to think we can have folks helping folks as opposed to spending a lot of money.”
Cec Ryall, Highlands East deputy mayor, said several years ago a private business in Gooderham had stepped up to offer the location for a bottle drive depot.
“They’re very comfortable with it being there,” he said. “They think it’s basically a draw to their store. They don’t think of it as a challenge, they think of it as an opportunity. One to help the community, obviously, and two, it doesn’t hurt their sales either.”
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said the cost for the lockers could come out of reserves, noting “we don’t want to go another whole winter with no service in that area.”
Moffatt said she was expecting the cost to be higher.
“Not to say that we all have money just sitting around but it’s not $40,000,” she said. “That’s a negligible amount of money compared to our budgets overall for a very important purpose.”
Stephenson thanked patrons for their emails and calls, and staff for suggestions in finding a viable option for a book depot and said he would pursue a location for the lockers.