Literacy will not stop for COVID-19 in Burns Lake

The yellow school bus running through the village every Monday to get to the Southside, loaded with books, games and snacks, is still working despite the COVID-19 troubles, albeit with some restrictions.

In 2009, Lakes Literacy procured an old yellow school bus and transformed it into a library on wheels. The bus was called W.O.W. i.e. Words on Wheels. “The reason this bus goes to the Southside, is to help with the transportation barrier,” said Jennifer Peterson, the Community Literacy Outreach Coordinator.

The W.O.W. bus is providing the same service that they were providing before the pandemic, with Mikel, the driver facilitator, driving down on Monday and making stops at Southside Health and Wellness Centre, Danskin and Southside Economic Development Association Building. The W.O.W. has however scaled back on some things like no more snacks, no refreshment and no socializing on the bus.

“So typically, a W.O.W. bus Monday service to the Southside, would have arts and crafts, and games and food, and people could come on board and they could hang out, have a cup of tea and have that type of experience where you are kind of connecting with people, looking at books and the kids have an area to play in the back of the W.O.W. bus – that service isn’t happening right now,” said Peterson.

The bus however, is still providing access to books, from their collection of donated books as well as through the Public Library.

With COVID-19 impacting everyone differently, the library staff has had to become quite innovative in thinking of ways to continue to provide service to the community in a safe and comfortable manner. The library closed its doors to public on March 18, 2020, in order to adhere to the social distancing guidelines. “We are a rural library and we do not have the capacity like our ‘big brothers and sisters’. Many of the large libraries are offering their services online and we are following their lead. However, in small communities like ours, few have access to high-speed internet and are unable to stream many of the resources. This is why the Curbside Service is so essential,” explained Monika Willner, Library Director of the Burns Lake Public Library.

However, not everyone can access even the curbside service, specifically the people from Southside, and that’s where W.O.W. comes into the picture. W.O.W. is still able to take books across from the library for the patrons that have ordered books with the public library.

“Not everybody over there has the ability to get into town. We don’t have bus transportation, we don’t have taxis, we don’t have anything like that so this brings the services to them, as long as they can get to one of the three locations,” said Peterson.

Under Peterson, W.O.W. is also collaborating with the library on the Garden Starter Project under which the library would be providing a package of various starter vegetable seeds and people can pick them up for free. People from the Southside who will call the library to put a hold on a package for them, will get the package delivered to them on the W.O.W. bus on every Monday till the stocks last.

“And we also partner with the LINK, so we are taking out food to the Southside community as well. The public over there is able to stop in and if they are looking for produce and what not, they are able to pick it up,” said Peterson.

With W.O.W. the lack of access to services is being addressed to some extent for the Southside community. There is in fact, a return service for the library books as well. People who want to return the library books, have to put them in a separate bin dedicated for library returns however, there are no rules or restrictions on the other books. “Our books are without rules I guess and you don’t have to pay anything. You don’t have to write anything down. If you return the books great, if you don’t that’s okay. If you bring back different books, that’s fine too,” informed Peterson.

Peterson also talked about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library that is also still operational during these COVID times. The program is part of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which was started by the famous country singer. It sends books to Petersen each month, based on the registered children from the community and bills her for it but the program is completely free for the families. In fact, on May 5th, the program will send its two thousand second book into the community.

“This May is when 133 children are getting the books and I billed $482 for those books. But 2002 books in our community since the start of this program in December 2018, that’s a huge win. It’s inspiring to know that there are so many families with little ones that are sitting around on the couch, tucked in with the books,” said Peterson.

To facilitate the continuity of the program, Peterson has had many donations over the past two years, including a $6000 pledge over three years by the Rotary Club and several private donations as well as. These donations are important for the program to continue because Peterson firmly believes that “there is nothing more important than having books at homes” especially in such difficult times and that too in a community where transportation is a big barrier and there isn’t even a bookstore.

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