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Annual Report 2020-2021

Annual Report 2020-2021
Four teen girls with popsicles posing in front of Halifax North's landmark sign on a sunny summer day A woman and toddler sitting together, wearing masks and reading a picture book Close-up of a man smiling while wearing a mask
A man forming a heart with his hands and smiling

Call and Response

"Unprecedented" has been a word commonly used to describe the 2020-21 year, worldwide. In our corner of the world, Halifax Public Libraries and our wider HRM community have too, seen a year filled with new challenges and unexpected plot twists. As we looked back at our 2020-21 timeline to gather stories for this report, between every time stamp marking pandemic-response phases, social crises, and global changes in 2020-21, bright moments of innovation shine through.

People are at the heart of all we do, and our strength as a Library is in responding to the calls of our community—their needs, their ideas, their hopes. Emerging from an unprecedented year, are unprecedented moments of progress. We feel great pride in sharing (a small portion of) these 2020-21 "call and response" stories with you through this report.

Emerging from an unprecedented year, are unprecedented moments of progress.

Our COVID-19 Response Timeline

Mar 16, 2020
Mar 19, 2020
Mar 23, 2020
Mar 26, 2020
Mar 31, 2020
Apr 06, 2020
Apr 13, 2020
Apr 28, 2020
May 15, 2020
Jun 15, 2020
Jul 07, 2020
Aug 05, 2020
Aug 19, 2020
Nov 25, 2020
Nov 27, 2020
Dec 21, 2020

All Library branches close to the public as Nova Scotia begins to shut down. Holds extended on all items.

Library delivers its first technology and care packages to local shelters. Digital library cards launch, seeing over 100 sign-ups on this first day.

Human Library series launches on social channels and website, featuring activity and story videos from Library staff and local authors.

Library adds $230,000 in additional e-books and audiobooks to its digital collection.

The Ask the Library phone line launches. Online resources, PressReader and Ancestry Library edition are made available for at-home use.

Kanopy video streaming online resource added to E-Library collection.

Activity pack and takeaway snacks launched. Small groups of staff work in branches to compile and distribute to community members.

Library presents its first virtual program: The Be Happier Hangout, on Zoom.

Curbside Pick-up pilot launches at Sheet Harbour Public Library.

Curbside Pick-up available at all Library branches.

All branches reopen for public access with extra safety measures in place.

Library announces it is officially fine-free.

Library announces new monthly $5.00 printing credit for all cardholders.

Branches (with the exception of Sheet Harbour Public Library) close to the public due to rise in Central Zone COVID-19 cases.

Alderney Gate Public Library serves as the first of many Library-based asymptomatic pop-up testing sites.

All branches reopen to the public.

A Message From Åsa Kachan

Our Chief Librarian and CEO
Åsa Kachan professional headshot, smiling to camera

"Our staff is the foundation from which all amazing Library outcomes blossom."

A Message From Åsa Kachan

Our Chief Librarian and CEO

In times of isolation and instability as we have experienced over the past year, we all seek something comforting; something stable and certain. I have done a lot of thinking this past year (haven't we all?), about the creativity and care that we should foster and nurture in ourselves and give to others. Over these past months, it has been a comfort to see the creativity and care shine through the work of our Library staff as they cared for the community and one another.

The passion for community and innovation shown by our staff members—from front-line staff like our clerks, security team, and program planners, to behind the-scenes employees in departments like Delivery Services, Collection Development, and Finance—have shaped the Library's response to our community's need this past year. I credit our team members' shared creativity and care for the many ways the Library has responded to the vulnerability our community faced due to COVID-19.

As our staff grappled with their own personal and family needs, they also saw the community's immediate needs clearly and found ways to step up with solutions. More digital offerings? Done. No more fines? Done. Curbside pick-up, snack and lunch distribution and laptop loaning - no problem!

Library staff are the foundation from which all amazing Library stories emerge and make the Library so special. You often hear the positive headlines about the Library, but may not always get to know the individual forces behind these expressions of care. We share some of these stories with you through this report. And as you read, know that there are more stories where these came from, and many more to come.

Åsa Kachan professional headshot, smiling to camera

"Library staff are the foundation from which all amazing Library stories emerge and make the Library so special."

A Message From Cindy O'Driscoll

Our Board Chair
Cindy O'Driscoll professional headshot, smiling to camera

"The Library was guided by compassion, resiliency, and adaptability."

A Message From Cindy O'Driscoll

Our Board Chair

The 2020-21 year presented many challenges. Organizations like libraries that provide critical services, shelter, and support, were uniquely challenged when it came to balancing access and protecting our community. We faced difficult decisions–like closing our doors to stop the spread of COVID-19. But, through all this difficulty, the Library was guided by compassion, resiliency, and adaptability.

We saw many new and permanent additions to our Library roll out this year in response to our changing environment. The Board was proud to support the introduction of digital card registration, Curbside Pick-up, virtual programming, and the Ask the Library phone line. We also expanded our E-Library collection of e-books, audiobooks, and online resources. Another incredible milestone in 2020 was the removal of fines and fees. This idea came from our staff, as you'll read later on in this report. I am so pleased to be able to say, "Goodbye Fines!"

We extend a tremendous "thank you" to all Library staff for sprinting towards solutions through demanding and challenging times. Your response has been inspiring, but not at all surprising–it's a testament to your commitment to community. Our Board looks forward to seeing what comes next.

Cindy O'Driscoll professional headshot, smiling to camera

"The Library was guided by compassion, resiliency, and adaptability."

Halifax Regional Library Board 2021

What word best describes the Library in 2020-21?
Cindy O'Driscoll professional headshot, smiling to camera
Reinvention.Cindy O'DriscollBoard Chair
Reinvention.Cindy O'DriscollBoard Chair
Kim Brooks professional headshot, smiling to camera
Hub.Kim Brooks
Hub.Kim Brooks
Tim Outhit professional headshot, smiling to camera
Innovative.Tim OuthitCouncillor
Innovative.Tim OuthitCouncillor
Alfred Burgesson professional headshot, smiling to camera
Resilience.Alfred Burgesson
Resilience.Alfred Burgesson
Marika Warren professional headshot, smiling to camera
Lifeline.Marika Warren
Lifeline.Marika Warren
Serena Cassidy professional headshot, smiling to camera
Community.Serena Cassidy
Community.Serena Cassidy
Heather Rose professional headshot, smiling to camera
Attentive.Heather Rose
Attentive.Heather Rose
Toni Mancini professional headshot, smiling to camera
Welcoming.Toni ManciniCouncillor
Welcoming.Toni ManciniCouncillor
Linda MacKay professional headshot, smiling to camera
Flexible.Linda MacKay
Flexible.Linda MacKay
Emily Miller professional headshot, smiling to camera
Nimble.Emily Miller
Nimble.Emily Miller
Mike Savage professional headshot, smiling to camera
Special.Mike SavageMayor
Special.Mike SavageMayor

Uncertain Times

In March 2020, Library management began holding regular COVID-19 Steering Committee meetings as the virus became a constant consideration in daily life, and then quickly, a global pandemic. In response, on Sunday, March 15, the Library announced it would close our spaces to the public as of March 16.

Whether it's a friendly smile and book recommendation whilst passing through the shelves, or a reliable snack and warm beverage on a cold afternoon, the Library stands as a point of connection for so many in Halifax, in so many ways.

We were determined to not let our closure close the service, innovation, or connection libraries bring. Everything had changed, but our commitment to community was unwavering.

Staff member wearing a face shield passing a bag of books to a library patron outside at curbside pick-up A woman wearing a mask posing next to a blue mailbox that has a smiling face painted on the front Two library employees wearing face shields smiling and posing outside at curbside pick-up

16,104Ask the Library questions answered

9,271digital library cards registered

902,900e-books borrowed

2,259,860WiFi connections

Ask the Library

On March 31, 2020, Halifax Public Libraries launched Ask the Library: an easily-accessible, fully staffed phone and email service.

Read the story

"We all knew that being able to reconnect and provide reassurance and resources to our community as quickly as possible was the most important thing we could do." — Ashlee Norton

Digital Delivery

The same week Halifax Public Libraries closed its branches, staff made technology deliveries to shelters and housing partners. Sheena Jamieson, Community Navigator, delivered Chromebooks, iPads, and MiFi devices to multiple locations in the city. Providing and increasing access to our technology devices, online resources, and WiFi ensured our community could access rapidly-changing health information, stay connected to loved ones, and seek free entertainment.

Read the story
A woman wearing glasses and a face mask smiles at the camera. Her nametag reads Sheena.
Several people wearing masks stand in line for curbside pick-up at the Halifax Central Library

Serving With Care

The public missed their Library, and we missed them right back. Forced into a scenario of distance, we strived to create the same personalized, yet united experience over the space between us.

73,910Curbside Pick-ups while Libraries closed

91outdoor events

1,706virtual events

1,050deliveries to homes and organizations

"For someone who thrives on human interaction, losing touch with my Library family was quite a challenge... It was absolutely wonderful to see how such a small thing could resonate with all of you." — Ella Leving

From a Distance

In the span of a typical year, our Libraries welcome over 3 million visitors through the doors, and host over 9,000 in-person programs. Facing an anything-but-typical-year, Library staff jumped into action on social media, behind cameras and keyboards, on Zoom, and in the great outdoors to share their friendly faces and personal talents with our community in new ways—taking the Library outside of its branch doors.

Ella Leving, Community Librarian at Captain William Spry Public Library, was one such staff member. She shared her love for poetry, video creation, and Nova Scotia's beautiful landscapes to deliver a soothing Poetry Afternoon video series, as well as leading popular community hikes in Spryfield when the Library reopened.

Read the story

Craving Connection

The community connections forged by Kentron Beals and the team at Halifax North Memorial Public Library were only strengthened through facing the challenges of COVID-19 together, apart. From friendly check-in phone calls, to physically distanced 'hugs' at Curbside Pick-up, to seeking out emergency funding for a family in need; the role of Community Navigator is one that Kentron Beals lives wholeheartedly, every day.

Read the story

"I know the Library is important to this community, and every community... because of how much they missed us when we were shut down. And then we reopened, we saw the reactions, how grateful they were for the services." — Kentron Beals

Building Something New

The pandemic has presented opportunities for problem-solving and innovation worldwide. In many ways, it has pushed humanity to face longstanding gaps and issues head-on, and take the bold steps required for solutions sooner than we've felt "ready" to do so. The Library is no different. We've seen innovation emerge in interesting and exciting ways, and it's created change for the better.

A senior citizen smiling and holding up a Grab and Go snack pack

109,146snack packs distributed

37,974library cards unblocked by going fine-free

$5.00/monthprinting allowance for all library card holders

8,217In the Kitchen video tutorial views

Going Fine-Free

The foundation of the public library is free and equitable service to all. However, many people associate libraries with overdue materials and the resulting fines. In 2020, Halifax Public Libraries removed fines and fees, further committing to equitable and accessible service. This decision was made after listening closely to feedback from both our community and Library staff. Removing this barrier gives everyone lifelong access to the Library.

Overdue fines disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable community members and created negative experiences for both our community and staff, often discouraging people and families from using the Library. This did not align with our vision of access for all. On August 5, 2020, 155,000 card holders had fines and fees removed from their accounts and were given a "fresh, fancy, and fine-free" start. The numbers only tell one side of the story; we welcomed back many individuals who shared smiles and tears of joy to be able to borrow again.

Library staff member Leah wearing a mask and holding a large sign with text on it reading: I love #MyLibrary
Library staff member Leah wearing a mask and holding a large sign with text on it reading: I love #MyLibrary

"One woman came in and, I watched her visibly relax as she told me that she hadn't had a library card in years because of the fines, but she was here to get one today." — Leah Pohlman

Library staff member Cohen holding a pair of scissors while working at a table

Tech for Good

When Central Library's doors closed to the public, the Lou Duggan Creative Studio doors remained open for Cohen Poirier's innovation. Having been inspired by the heroism of medical and frontline workers, Cohen took it upon himself to take the Studio's 3D printer home to design and print ear savers—clasps for masks that remove the pressure of bands from around the ears—for Dartmouth General Hospital staff.

Read the story

"Libraries have the power to accelerate careers, foster new friendships, and offer supports for community members when they need it most." — Cohen Poirier

A robotics project resting on a table

Welcome to the Team

When Yashika Sally joined the Library's People & Culture Team as a Human Resources Assistant in February 2020, she and the whole team did not expect to be thrown into the territory of onboarding staff from home. True to her ambitious and caring nature, Yashika quickly found a way to help the Library simplify and modernize its payroll processes—a behind-the-scenes feat that has had significant positive impact across the system.

Read the story

"Over the past year, I have learned and experienced that the Library always welcomes new people with innovative ideas... Working with the Library makes me feel proud, really." — Yashika Sally

Community Cares

Two hands forming a heart with a blurred face in the background

As Halifax 'locked arms' in the battle against COVID-19, so did our Library community. The work of the Library is the work of thousands of unsung, everyday heroes across HRM: our volunteers, our social media supporters, our donors, and our lifelong bookworms. Thank you to all those who have supported the Library in countless ways this year. Whether you helped us pack lunches, retweeted an important call to action, or offered staff a friendly smile from behind your mask, we as a Library community are making it through these difficult times because of you.

13,453English Language Learning volunteer tutoring hours

3,676English Conversation Group volunteer tutoring hours

936Teen Volunteer hours

18COVID Pop-up Testing Sites at Libraries in 2020-21

Forming Friendships

María​ Ojeda and Colleen Fraser met in English Language Learning Tutoring (ELL) at Alderney Gate Public Library in February 2020. The pair were just getting acquainted and comfortable with the ins and outs of tutoring sessions when the pandemic hit.

In March, the pair switched to FaceTime, and then Zoom, to continue their learning. Switching to a virtual platform allowed them to meet each other's pets and quarantine partners. In a year, they went through a lot together, navigating not only life in a new country for María, but a new world, for all.

Read the story

"Our relationship through COVID was so strong that Colleen was at our wedding—not just as a guest, but as a witness. There is no other special person in Canada that could be there like her."

A bride and groom posing with two friends, smiling

Created With You

Side profile of Keonté Beals posing with hands pressed together

African Heritage Month

African Heritage Month at the Library, presented by the TD Ready Commitment, looked very different in 2021. Through live streamed events, virtual panel discussions and workshops, along with influencer blogs, the celebration grew in new ways that will be carried forward in future years.

Explore Website
Chef Andy Hay holding up a plate of food

In the Kitchen

This take-home DVD, meal kit, and recipe initiative for underserved communities works to highlight simple, healthy ingredients and meals. Videos feature local chefs such as Andy Hay of MasterChef Canada and Andy's East Coast Kitchen, and Mary Nkruhmah of Mary's African Cuisine.

View Playlist
Different coloured flowers in bloom in front of Central Library

Climate Changers

Wherever you are on your journey of climate action, your Library is here for you. In 2020, Library staff launched an action group furthering efforts to address climate change within the organization—through tasks like redesigning delivery maps to decrease emissions—and within our community.

Take Action
Cheryl Copage-Gehue reading out loud from a book

Community Portals

In partnership with community partners, the Library is working to amplify messages and content through "Virtual Portals": collections of community—created and compiled content like videos, blogs, resources, and reading lists honouring various cultural and societal initiatives and celebrations.

Discover Portals


Please click here to download the PDF of our financial report

Photographer Andy Conrad posing with a camera in hand


Photos throughout this report have been captured by the wonderful Andy Conrad, Graphic Designer and Photographer with the Library's Marketing & Communications team.

Thank You to Our Donors

Few places level the playing field and bring community together like the Library. We're committed to providing free access for everyone to a diverse collection, vibrant spaces, and engaging events. Whether big or small, your donations help make this possible. You can find more information and make an online donation by visiting

Halifax Regional Library
Charitable Registration# 87486 6551 RR 0001
60 Alderney Drive, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4P8
Phone: (902) 490-5744 | Email: