March 1, 2021

 As lockdowns begin again and COVID-19 infections increase, many people are revisiting their search for new solo hobbies and entertainment. Things like cooking, crafting, and streaming are common past-times keeping people going during pandemic times. This winter, digital reading was added to that list. 

“There’s so much demand for books, puzzles, board games… I would say that we are seeing quite the demand, we’re not sitting around, it’s go-go-go all the time… it took me three hours to pull all the (fiction floor) holds and check them in,” says Leah McGuire, an information specialist at the Queen’s Square branch of Idea Exchange Library

Physical titles, ebooks, and audio book loans alike are going strong this winter, with a particular influx in comfort reads. “Things like romance, mystery, thrillers, light fiction, family dramas, and biographies. It’s bringing people comfort, giving them that escape from what’s all happening right now, I think that’s why you see those ones,” McGuire comments, “You get reading a great thriller, you don’t think about anything else… Same thing with a great biography or romance.”

Although these ‘escapist’ genres have risen in popularity, the self-help and mental healthy titles have not seen a visible increase in loans. These titles have always been popular, according to Natalie Gibbons, manager of collections at Kitchener Public Library, but are not in a noticeable trend. McGuire states similarly, “There’s a smaller, but also avid readership who are taking out self-help, political, anti-racism, and social justice reads, as an institution, we (Idea Exchange) have the ability to support people, whether it’s critical discourse … or supporting people who need help, whether it’s self-help, mental health help, or even addiction help, we’re quite glad to be there for the community, and while that’s not as big of a readership as the comfort reads, I think it’s a really important readership we’re really glad to be able to support.” 

As COVID lockdowns have caused life in general to become digital in many aspects, Gibbons, notes how books are also following that trend: “Over this past year we have seen quite a dip in our circulation numbers, in physical items, books dvds, audio books, however our ebooks and e-audio have risen by 30 per cent.” Both the Kitchener Public Library and Idea Exchange pay for a service called Overdrive to rent out electronic titles and other online materials. 

These online resources open up many more opportunities for entertainment and learning, according to McGuire, “A great silver lining is that people are discovering all the stuff we have that aren’t just books… with our online stuff, you can learn a language, you can read a magazine from your home, you can watch movies from Hoopla, you can get your audio books and downloadable ebooks… it’s hard to say what’s the most used because it seems everything is getting a lot of use right now.” 

Going virtual also makes accessibility less of a problem for many who weren’t able to go to physical locations for the libraries’ events and programs. Hosting them online has allowed a wider audience to be reached, says Giddons, and having hot-spot internet units available for loan, has made this more possible than ever. The Kitchener Public Library and many others have made this box-like unit borrowable through your library card. It also comes with instructions for anybody to set up the internet in their homes. 

The Kitchener Public Library has an extensive list of events happening online throughout the winter, including ‘Knit ‘n’ Lit’ guest time on Feb 2, a meditation workshop on Feb 4, and a photography contest running until Feb 28. Idea Exchange has also moved online for their events and programs, and also started the postcard project, a movement where members of the public decorate a postcard with an encouraging message for hospital workers, and long-term care residents and workers.   

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