While Islanders of all ages went above and beyond to do their bit for the community throughout the pandemic, one of the undoubted success stories was the efforts of those at the Isle of Man Family Library.
Indeed, the recent restrictions the Island faced at the start of 2021 further highlighted the need for the range of invaluable services offered by the Library, to all ages Island wide, despite many of them going under the radar.
For while the Family Library on Westmoreland Road in Douglas is known for providing a warm welcome amid a hub of activity, the facility is only one part of a much wider offering which reaches thousands and thousands of local people and proves a lifeline for many.
This has recently been recognised with the manager of the Mobile Library, Sally Hardman, named as a finalist in the inaugural Extraordinary Islanders campaign. From the outset of the pandemic last March, she led a team which ensured residents who were shielding and isolated felt cared for with special deliveries Island wide – all with a big smile and a warm heart!
In fact, the Mobile Library and Home Library Service issued in the region of 3,600 books to borrowers through two months of contactless doorstep deliveries, before it was able to resume its regular services once guidelines and social distancing restrictions were eased last summer.
Sally explained: ‘As we all know the situation developed so quickly last March. Just ahead of the lockdown restrictions taking hold, we were able to take the mobile van out and deliver an initial six weeks’ worth of books to our members and from there it just snowballed.
‘In the first two weeks of May alone, we picked, checked, cleaned and issued 1,800 books, then repeated the process in June. We made deliveries to anyone who was in need of a collection and, in total, more than 3,600 books were selected, cleaned and delivered over a two months’ period. Returns were also quarantined in new storage boxes before being cleaned, returned and re-shelved.
‘Fortunately, the Mobile Library team has an encyclopaedic knowledge of what our borrowers like to read, and had transport, but it was so much more than that.’
With support from Manx Lottery Trust, the Mobile Library’s service was maintained and went way beyond delivering books.
Although the Mobile Library van was on furlough, the Library’s Bibliotherapy initiative – which uses books, technology and memory boxes to encourage social interaction and maintain active and healthy minds for those who rarely get the opportunity to socialise – also has a dedicated vehicle funded previously by the Lottery Trust. Along with recently funded additional resources, such as storage and delivery boxes, the team was able to cover all the Mobile Library and Home Library routes that way.
‘It was invaluable,’ added Sally, who was full of praise for the team comprising, Kerry-Ann Mitchell, Janet Moore, Rakie Bennett and Graeme Jolly.
‘The support of the Manx Lottery Trust was crucial as it provided the opportunity for our staff to check in on those borrowing items. This was particularly important for people who had very little interaction with the outside world once the pandemic hit.
‘For doorstep deliveries we would leave them outside and then have a natter from a distance. Some chatted for a while as it was good company for them, others just waved. The Mobile Library staff also phoned people during that time, and this was particularly important for borrowers who were living on their own.
‘That was what truly mattered. To check on their welfare and keep the conversation going, whatever their age, as those few months could be a very solitary existence.
‘The most poignant thing I heard during that period was from a lady who said it was as if the world had stopped – there was no traffic and it seemed no-one even walked past her house anymore. We simply had to keep the calls and the contact going while we were off the road. We sent emails, texts and even postcards in some cases. It’s always nice to receive a letter or card through the post and that went down really well.’
Touching on the how the team reached as many people as possible, Sally continued: ‘It was tricky to find some of the more obscure locations but we made sure every single one of our members who requested it received a delivery, with safety at the forefront of what we were doing. We were even left a few goodies on their doorsteps, like a cold drink. It was pretty exhausting on the hot days mind!
‘In June, within five minutes of the Chief Minister announcing restrictions would be further eased, the first email arrived asking when we would be back on the road, demonstrating the high demand for our service.’
Sally admits it was a difficult time from many perspectives, not least the
logistics required to be able to make socially distanced doorstop deliveries and continue its unique offering to the Island community.
‘It was a surreal period and a challenging year for everyone. At times it literally was a case of eat, sleep, repeat! Naturally we followed government advice on hygiene, so all items were cleaned, bagged up, delivered and then, once returned, quarantined before being put back into our system. It was quite a process, one few could have envisaged when it all began! What’s more, we had to make sure what we were delivering had not been read by those people previously.
‘The team worked so hard during lockdown and I am truly proud of the people I work with. They never questioned once what we had to do. They were pro-active, eager to help and went that extra mile.’
Looking ahead, following the initial circuit breaker lockdown of 2021, The Family Library plans to continue its much-loved Island services.
‘Hopefully this year will be a lot more straightforward but, either way, we are determined to maintain what is an essential service for the Isle of Man,’ added Sally.
‘Yes, we have a bespoke collection of books, digital audio books and other resources such as DVDs, but we have been reminded just how much of a friend we are to so many in the local community. The feedback we received from our lockdown services was terrific, with lots of good wishes from all over the Island which shows just how important our offering is.
‘It was heartening to hear and highlights the value of the Mobile Library and associated services. We even picked up a few new borrowers too!’