Library staff keep the pages turning for Buckinghamshire residents during Coronavirus crisis
Although library buildings are closed, the service is very much open with library staff busy promoting digital services that people can access from home.
Library members are taking full advantage of the free online resources, such as eBooks and eAudio books, with an increased number of book titles available. With nearly 600 new online members, a 60% increase on eBook issues and eAudio usage up by 21% since March, library staff have been making sure that Bucks continues to read and learn during lockdown.
What residents may not know is that library staff have also joined the cross-council effort to support vulnerable people during the Coronavirus crisis. Many of them have taken on different roles as part of the eight Local Support Hubs across the county and doing what they do best – talking to people and building strong relationships with local communities.
Stories from library staff working at the Beaconsfield, Princes Risborough, Amersham and Marlow Hubs offer an insight into how they are working differently and what they are doing to help residents.
Micheline Katts is working in the Marlow Hub and spends her day phoning vulnerable residents regarding food and medication supplies, delivering emergency food parcels and putting residents in touch with local volunteers for basic shopping. For Micheline and other “hubbies”, as the Hub workers are affectionately known, each morning starts with making calls to new residents on the shielded list, finding out what help and support they need and making sure the right organisations and volunteers are involved. Micheline also does Keep In Touch (KIT) calls which are a vital part of ensuring the wellbeing of residents. Micheline commented: ‘What has been particularly humbling is how grateful our residents are for this contact. We build a rapport with residents via KIT making them feel safe as they get to know and trust you. I have spoken to so many over the last weeks and have enjoyed getting to know them.’
For many residents shielding at home, their only contact is with those working at their Local Support Hub. Area Manager Laura Davies has been working with the Beaconsfield Hub team, and points out that ‘just a friendly voice on the end of the phone is a real boost’ for isolated residents. Laura and the other Beaconsfield Hub helpers have been focusing on regular call backs to see how people are getting on. Laura sums up her experience so far: ‘It has been really interesting to work with people from both within and outside of our library team and I have been so impressed by how willing everyone is to help and how quickly everyone has adapted to new roles. Helping with the Hubs has allowed me to stay connected to one of the aspects that I most love about my job and that is helping people. To hear people say that your call has made their day is job satisfaction in a nutshell.’
It’s a similar story at the Princes Risborough Hub. Aylesbury Senior Library Manager Mick Harris and his colleagues have also been calling residents to offer a range of support and advice, from the basics of heating and hot water to financial information. Mick highlights just how important this contact is for residents: ‘We have been lucky to receive praise and kind words from people grateful for the contact and support, as well as in some cases being the only person someone has spoken to all week. I think I speak for us all though when I say that we do feel that we’ve made a difference.’
Likewise, working at the Amersham Hub has allowed Roberta Wixon to build trust with those residents most at risk. A few situations have arisen where Roberta has really been able to make a difference, including emergency deliveries of food consisting of items from her own food cupboards! She added: ‘I would like to take the opportunity to thank our Amersham hub leader Errol Crawford and team members who have managed to make me laugh every day. People have genuinely thanked me for helping them, which has been really lovely.’
Although the primary focus of the Hubs is to ensure vulnerable residents have access to necessities, it is clear that what people really value is the compassion and time spent taking care of their mental wellbeing. These stories from library staff are just one snapshot of the huge efforts by council workers, who are working in different roles than usual to improve the lives of residents during this turbulent time. Cllr Gareth Williams, Cabinet Member Communities & Public Health commented: ‘I’m really proud of how our staff have risen to the challenge. I think staff are getting just as much out of this as residents, and hopefully our new connections in the community will continue to thrive after life begins to return to normal.’