In June 2023, wildfires destroyed neighbourhoods in the Tantallon community. A local state of emergency was issued while more than 15,000 people evacuated their homes leaving everything behind. Tantallon Public Library, located at 3646 Hammonds Plains Road was within the evacuation area, but fortunately sustained no damage and as a result, was able to open as soon as the local state of emergency was lifted. Library staff quickly got to work identifying what their community needed during this distressing time. We see it time and time again, whether it's during prolonged power outages, or Atlantic Canadian hurricanes—Libraries provide basics likes shelter, electricity, but most importantly a place for rest, comfort and connection for healing. This is just a snapshot of how the team at Tantallon Public Library responded during a time of need.
How do you reopen a Library?
As soon as it was safe to do so, Tantallon Public Library reopened with extended hours—offering Sunday programs not typically included during summer hours. Being closed for an extended period of time presents some complexities for a public library. Overtime, material will build up, and staff have some catching up to do. During the closure, Tantallon Public Library saw more than 400 items put on hold at the branch. Knowing that many families lost entire personal libraries, staff worked tirelessly to unpack shipments and make sure all those items were available and waiting on shelves for borrowers. Staff at Tantallon made sure to give community members generous time to pick up their holds.
Responding to community needs
The atmosphere in the branch was also important. Within a day, Rachel, a Tantallon Staff Member, created a display thanking first responders and selected materials that the community might need, like: first aid materials, masks and gloves, emergency manuals, Environment Canada and Health Canada checklists, colouring sheets, puzzles and toys, and reading materials. (See image above.) Items were graciously borrowed, and the display was restocked frequently. Parents have shared that the selected books are helping children process the local events and answer their questions. We also heard that displaced families have been grateful for our lounge and toy area. Some families are discovering us for the first time, and their children are delighted by new toys; while others welcome the familiar space, and their little ones are comforted by visiting their Library.
When the evacuation orders were lifted, community response shifted beyond the immediate needs brought on by the local destruction and Comfort Centres were winding down operations. Once it was safe to reopen, Tantallon Public Library's programming offered opportunities for reconnection, information sharing and healing. The branch opened for special hours on a Sunday to partner with the Canadian College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to offer a free stress-relief program. During the week, the community was invited to daily Coffee & Conversations, where neighbours can reconnect and decompress. Vicki, Nicky, Cheryl, and Rachel, dedicated Tantallon Staff, are continuing to do do what they do best: responding to customers' needs and requests. These conversations are difficult and are often amidst tears and sad stories of destroyed homes and pets lost to fires.
Since reopening, at any given moment in the branch there are several customers who have been directly impacted and seeking some level of support and refuge. These are just a few examples of how Tantallon Public Library has responded to its community:
Juggling it all
A mother of three, displaced from their home came to the branch to study for an exam. She studied all morning and used available technology to write an exam. Her own laptop had been left behind when the family had only a few minutes to evacuate. Not only did she pass her exam, but she received the local alert while writing the exam, that she could return home after being evacuated for two weeks. She shared with Library staff that she was ecstatic to be returning home with her children that afternoon.
"Books & DVDs can be replaced"
Nicky, Tantallon Public Library staff member, fielded one of many calls to our branch from a tearful customer who was very upset that the DVDs her family borrowed were left behind when their home was destroyed by fire. The customer was very pleased to tell Nicky that she was able to grab the Library books before they had to rush out of their home with the fire lapping at the edge of their property. (Note: We do not recommend delaying evacuation to grab library books!) Nicky was reassuring, letting the customer know we were just happy her family is safe. Books can easily be replaced; should you find yourself in an emergency situation, do not worry about Library materials—community safety is always a priority.
A note about due dates during an emergency: No one should incur library costs during an emergency. Typically during an extended closure, Halifax Public Libraries will adjust due dates. We also remind you that Halifax Public Libraries no longer charges fines for overdue materials. This compassionate approach accommodates emergency situations out of our community's control. If you have questions, you can call your branch.
Navigating systems without technology
There are many people using Library printers and computers to correspond with insurance companies as they sort out their individual situations. People only had minutes to evacuate, leaving their technology behind. Community members have expressed gratitude for Tantallon Public Libraries' technology lending and personalized support. It is challenging to find information, file paperwork or communicate without technology. You can learn more about booking a public computer or borrowing technology at your Library.
What is next at Tantallon Public Library?
Library staff will continue to listen to the community and offer compassionate and responsive programs. You can come by the branch during open hours, and take in local artist, Julia Burlingame artwork on display. Burlingame's colourful and whimsical artwork are a welcome addition to refresh our space and offer relief from the charred landscape.
Dacia, Jeannie, Nicky, Rachel, Vicki, Cheryl, Joan, Heather, Catherine, Kalei and Fionn look forward are continuing to support their community as we move toward recovery and rebuilding. You can check out the What's On Calendar for free community programs at Tantallon Public Library or ask Library staff about resources you might need.