By Kathryn Stocks

The Port Union branch of the Toronto Public Library opened its doors again on March 21 and staff members were delighted. The branch had been closed since January 10.

“We’re so happy to be back,” Susan Farmer said. “I was honestly grinning from ear-to-ear driving here this morning. I just felt so relieved.” Susan became the branch head last fall.

“It was a great feeling to be back here and really start to make some plans,” she said. “When we started in September everything was up in the air. There was no concrete date for starting programs or anything like that. We had to plan but it was difficult. We knew we weren’t in a place to start anything.”

During the closure, the librarians came to the branch twice a week to clear the book drop and process the holds that were going out from Port Union to other libraries. They were closed for a year and a half and “at one point this entire area was full of delivery bins. It was at least 100 bins,” Susan said.

She is relieved the distancing regulations have been lifted because that was going to be an issue in their small space. Staff will wear masks until April 1 but customers don’t have to wear them anymore. “We took down all of our signage about having to wear a mask,” she said, “just so that people feel more welcome.”

Their opening day went very well and they had lots of traffic. The first through the door was a family with two little girls. “It was so nice to hear their voices,” Susan said. “They were having a great time looking at picture books.” The library also had quite a few library card registrations.

The staff have been rearranging the chairs and you’ll notice it as soon as you walk through the doors. They have smaller groupings for those who aren’t yet comfortable being close together, and the customer hold section is now at the front.

“We’re not doing programming just yet,” Susan said. “We’re still working on clearing up our meeting room with all the furniture. I don’t think we’ll be putting it all back out because it’s a bit tight. We’re supposed to account for accessibility and ideally you need three feet of space around furniture or shelving so that people can access everything if they’re in a wheelchair.”

The library will ease into programming, she said, maybe starting with the Baby Time program on Wednesday mornings, and getting the knitting group up and going.

The library had some staffing challenges and it wasn’t able to open sooner due to being down four staff members. “We couldn’t’ function,” Susan said. “When you factor in illness, you’re not at a level where you can open safely.” They’ve been doing some hiring since then and although they’re still down two people, they’re now at a manageable level.

“I’m truly hoping that we’re not going to go backwards and that all is going to be well so I can invite my babies and moms to come back,” she said. “I ordered a ukulele for the branch because I like to play ukulele for my programs. I’m looking forward to that.”

The library is now back to regular hours and there are more study tables out for the students. “It’s feeling a little more normal,” Susan said, “which is lovely.”