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Archived - Remedy for cabin fever: Jill Hawken and her Ottawa Public Library colleagues are live-streaming Storytime

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April 17, 2020
Feature Stories

Parenting is hard. Parenting during a pandemic, with kids at home as the weather gets nicer by the day? Hard doesn’t even begin to describe it.

When COVID-19 arrived in Ottawa, Ottawa Public Library (OPL) branches across the city had to close. The library is a precious resource for all residents, not just families. But the absence of the beloved children’s programming left storybook-shaped holes in the hearts of parents and children across the city.

No one knows how long it will be before little legs will once again sit cross-legged in a semi-circle for Storytime at their local library. Until then, Librarian Jill Hawken and her OPL colleagues have some tales to tell about what they’re doing to help beleaguered parents and restless kids get through this difficult time.

A woman wearing glasses stands in front of a tree and a fence on a sunny day.
Librarian Jill Hawken and her Ottawa Public Library colleagues have been hard at work curating Isolation Recreation, the perfect antidote to lockdown-induced boredom.

Can you tell me about some of the creative solutions OPL staff have come up with to help people through the pandemic?

We started brainstorming as soon as we realized COVID-19 was going to close our branches. We already had a lot of online resources for all ages that we could promote, but we also got to thinking about how to offer some live programming online.

The result of that brainstorming session was Isolation Recreation. It’s front and centre on our homepage. There are two sections – one for adults and teens, and another for the kiddos. These pages are essentially where anyone with a library card can go to access all our online collections. That means eBooks, eAudiobooks, magazines, newspapers, movies, music, recipes, you name it. For example, we have online resources to learn a new language in Mango Languages and to read books with kids in TumbleBook Library. Colleagues across OPL are continuously filling the Isolation Recreation pages with blog posts full of new ideas and resources to explore.

What about people who don’t have a library card?

Life is hard enough right now, so we’ve made access easy: you can request a temporary card online and then contact InfoService by email: or by phone: 613 580-2940.

What’s your favourite resource for kids?

That would have to be the live events. Our amazing branch staff weren’t about to let a pandemic get in the way of Storytime, so we started exploring options for how to broadcast live. After some trial and error, my colleague Sandra Hobbs got set up to live-stream Storytime from her living room. We held a few practice sessions to give her feedback in terms of logistics like positioning her phone, how to hold the book, etc.

Our first live event had a capacity of 100 participants, and we reached capacity after just two minutes. We got the message loud and clear that there was lots of demand, so we’ve expanded our capacity for these events and we’re looking to add more and more of them to the Programs and events page in the OPL Online tab. Based on the comments, people are really seeming to take comfort in these opportunities for human connection and interaction. It’s really nice to know people appreciate what we’re doing.

A screen shot of a woman sitting in front of a black curtain reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to kids via live-stream.
After some brainstorming and a lot of practice, Sandra Hobbs (pictured here) and other Ottawa Public Library branch staff have been mastering the art of live streaming Storytime.

Can anyone access these events?

Yes, anyone can attend these events! You don’t need a library card. We realize parents need as much support as they can get right now to keep their kids engaged and learning, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to get access. Just go to the Programs and events page or click on the Featured Event on our homepage.

What has it been like to work on such a big project from home?

There’s been lots of creative problem solving going on, that’s for sure. Our staff can’t access books from the library while the branches are closed, so they’ve had to raid their families' collections to ensure the presenters have new titles to choose from for Storytime.

And I have to say, thank goodness for technology every day. It’s allowing us to make these wonderful resources available to residents, and it’s keeping us all connected to one another. I just have to remind myself to step away from the computer more often and get up and stretch!

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