Graphic by Esra Rakab

 Hamilton Public Library’s virtual programming is supporting the community and helping them stay connected

Community is a crucial component of well-being. It is also something that many are missing as traditional gatherings such as city-wide events have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Libraries have long since been gathering places for communities but due to the pandemic, many closed for months.  While nothing will likely be able to replace this missing connection, libraries have found ways to adapt and forge new kinds of connections.

The Hamilton Public Library has created new avenues for connection while still maintaining the high quality and range associated with their traditional programming. In mid-March, shortly after the first pandemic closures, HPL transitioned its programs to a virtual environment, initially using Microsoft Teams. Since then, they have expanded to YouTube and Hamilton TV channel Cable 14. They have also added a number of new programs in light of the pandemic, such as a learning database, job search events and social events like Poems from Home

So far, HPL’s virtual programs have been very successful, with many of their livestreamed events continuing to get views weeks after they’re released. Their online platforms, such as Cisco Academy and Mango, have seen dramatic increases in use since the pandemic closures.

HPL serves not just those who live in Hamilton but those who work and learn in the city as well. They want to ensure that all members of the community, whether or not they are able to come to Hamilton now, still feel connected and supported. Community is very much top of mind for Lisa Radha Weaver, the director of collections and program development at HPL, as well as the rest of the HPL’s program team.

I really hope that all HPL library members are able to walk away with the thing that they were looking for. So, if they were looking for social interaction with a sit and stretch, or a book club conversation, I hope that they got that engagement, especially if they’ve been isolated since March. I hope the people who are logging on to our Cisco Academy and are hoping to apply for that dream job are able to have the confidence . . . [to] have a successful interview and for any member who is looking for something and isn’t able to necessarily find it on our website. I hope that they’re going to call [in] to Ask HPL or email us and let us know that they’re looking for this kind of programming,” said Weaver.

I really hope that all HPL library members are able to walk away with the thing that they were looking for. So, if they were looking for social interaction with a sit and stretch, or a book club conversation, I hope that they got that engagement, especially if they’ve been isolated since March…” said Weaver.

All their programs can be accessed with an HPL library card. If community members do not have a card as of yet, they are able to register for one through the HPL website. Weaver especially encourages students to get a library card if they do not already have one, as this is a way by which they can connect with the Hamilton community during a time when they may feel particularly isolated. Even if they are not living in Hamilton currently but still attending university virtually, students are eligible for an HPL card. 

Many of their programs featuring local musicians and authors can offer students a glimpse into the culture and history of the city they’re studying in. Other programs, such as book clubs, knitting circles and music circles can help students connect with the larger Hamilton community. Additionally, the library’s many online learning platforms can offer students support through various tutoring, language learning, computer coding and other skill programs.

“We really do appreciate being part of the McMaster community and are happy to support, just as McMaster libraries are, all . . . student learners and instructors at McMaster . . . [W]e look forward to engaging with all the students, especially the new students at Mac this year who we haven’t been able to meet in person yet . . . We look forward to meeting them online and supporting them throughout this academic year,” said Weaver.

“We really do appreciate being part of the McMaster community and are happy to support, just as McMaster libraries are, all . . . student learners and instructors at McMaster . . .” said Weaver.

HPL has faced some challenges, the chief one being accessibility. Many people rely on libraries for computer and internet access. Currently, some branches are open for restricted hours and computers can be accessed then. However, many of the virtual programs they offer take place after hours and if community members do not have a device and stable internet access at home, they cannot access these events. 

One of the challenges that HPL has been able to surmount is the number of community members who were not online or comfortable navigating the virtual environment before this pandemic. Through the Ask HPL service on their website, they have been able to help many of these people transition online.

“So there are book clubs that have been meeting for decades in person, and transitioning them online for some people has been a challenge, whether it’s a device challenge or a software challenge but again, with our amazing Ask HPL service . . . we’ve been able to help members transition to those services online. We look at every challenge as an opportunity and we’re fortunate that we’ve had the staff capacity and community interest in addressing those challenges and helping people stay engaged with the library,” explained Weaver.

Libraries have always been places for people to gather and feel connected, held and supported. So it is fitting that HPL are among those fostering a digital sense of community during these trying times.

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