After libraries were forced to close in the fallout of coronavirus restrictions, some in Melbourne’s north-east have taken it upon themselves to continue to offer community support and resources to some of the most isolated members of their community. 

“One of the key things about libraries is we never close. We’re open to the community,” said Jane Cowell, CEO of Yarra Plenty Regional Library

“So to be told that we had to close, literally we had to close the doors to the community, was a real shock for all of us.”

Despite their physical library closing its doors, their online resources were still available to the public. But knowing that many of the older people who are members of their community libraries weren’t going to be following on with their online presence, librarians began making phone calls. 

“Our digital library was open. We thought we better connect in with our seniors because they wouldn’t be following our website. We thought, well, let’s give them a call,” said Ms Cowell.  

“Of course, we didn’t realise that we’d have to do that to 7,000 members.” 

So the phone calls began, reaching out to older members of the community to help them continue to access library resources from home. 

“My first phone call was actually really adorable,” recalls librarian Amy Inglis. 

“It was a 93-year-old lady, and she had bought her very first iPad. At the end of the call, she just thanked me and she said, “You got a 93-year-old to download an e-book over the phone!” She was so proud of herself.”

So far the project has been a resounding success, with recipients of the calls appreciating the special time and effort to check in. 

Joanne Cairns has loved receiving calls from librarians and has jumped at the chance to use their online learning resources. 

“I got a call out of the blue from one of the librarians and it was amazing because it was a call to check how I was and how I was surviving with the new conditions and whether or not I had everything I needed from the library,” she said. 

“I just confirmed with them about what was available within e-books and audio books and then I also found out that there was an app that you could use for getting access to magazines if you preferred, or even courses online are freely available. It is about time I learnt how to use Excel properly.” 

With almost 7000 members contacted, the Caring Call project has no doubt assisted older community members in ways that many wouldn’t have immediately expected. 

“The Caring Call project is a check-in project. We’re checking in on you, because we know that you need the library. We know that you love the library and we want to connect you with the library,” said Ms Cowell. 

Keeping people’s spirits up and their minds engaged in a time when community resources and outreach have been limited is key in helping people through tough times. And with older people in our communities some of the most vulnerable to the pandemic, allowing them to receive this kind of care and attention from their homes has no doubt been invaluable in a time like this. 

“You know, [it adds] a bit of a sparkle to the day, that someone or a team of people would bother to do this and ring thousands of people, seniors, that were their members. I was very impressed,” said Ms Cairns.

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