AN astonishing one million avid library users clicked online to use the Parramatta city’s library services forced to close its doors for nearly six months while transitioning into a COVID-Safe facility.
The eight libraries in Carlingford, Constitution Hill, Dundas, Epping, Ermington, Parramatta, and Wentworth Point introduced a 24-hour click-and-collect service that enabled residents to borrow classic and latest books, an array of music on CD, movies on DVD, and specialty magazines on various topics including lifestyle, DIY and home improvement.
And surprisingly library users responded in huge numbers and clicked on the library website in droves particularly during the first phase of the lockdown.
Parramatta city has over 250,000 residents as of 2019 and nearly 80,000 are members of the eight libraries – 87 per cent of these members are adults over 65 years old and five per cent young adults; 10 per cent are juniors enrolled at local schools while the rest are avid library users living in nursing homes and other care facilities registered on the library’s home delivery service.
Residents have become familiar to using the Council’s online library services to browse a huge collection of genres of books for reading pleasure or for academic study, learn something new such as languages or hobbies, and to connect with other residents in the area through book clubs, children’s reading times and tech-savvy seniors’ computer classes for example.
As the libraries closed last year due to COVID-19 restrictions and residents spent more time at home working or studying remotely, the city’s libraries operated “a little different for a while,” said Lord Mayor Bob Dwyer.
During that first phase of the lockdown, Mr Dwyer said the Council innovated its online services and reached out to its residents urging them to find “the perfect excuse to read a good book whether by yourself or with your children” and make use of the council’s extensive library services through online connection.
Parramatta has one of the largest populations of multicultural residents – more than 100 ethnic backgrounds reside in the council area – the libraries supplemented its inter-library collection of multilingual materials, adding in 1000 new titles in 18 languages made available through the NSW State Library.
The library catalogue now contains multicultural e-resources such as foreign language magazines for its Indian, Chinese, Italian, Korean and Vietnamese speaking locals and bulk of the items during the pandemic came from this sector.
Staff expanded to meet demand
The Council also expanded its staff of multi-lingual technology-savvy library technicians to assist in delivering its services to the community.
The online services have been expanded with children’s story time, book clubs, summer reading programs, bestselling author talks, information sessions on HSC studies and taxation, tutoring local seniors on technology through free computer lessons as well as English language classes.
The 1000 Books Before School program to prepare children for school and develop their literacy skills and Online Homework Help to support school and university students have rated highest number of clicks in the last year.
The Council’s eight libraries are among the public libraries across the State that have benefitted from a boost in funding from the State Government in the 2019-2020 budget as well as in the $60M additional funding over four years from 2021 to 2023, which include grants of $24M for public libraries to improve their facilities and IT systems.
“Our libraries play an invaluable role in our community – not just as palaces to read and learn but as spaces to come together, share knowledge and discuss ideas,” said Mr Dwyer.
“It is for this reason that Council is ensuring our libraries are meeting the needs of our growing community. By investing in our libraries, we are investing in our [city’s] future.”
Since the city’s eight libraries reopened in June last year, Mr Dwyer said they prioritised the health and safety of its staff and members by operating with strict measures in line with Federal and State Government COVID-Safe guidelines.
To find out more about Parramatta Council’s online library services, click on https://www.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/community/library. Library members can also reserve books over the phone on (02) 9806 5159.
By ELIZABETH FRIAS