Public Libraries across Victoria are providing vital support to help community members to access their COVID vaccination status.
‘The work being completed by our team is often complex, the needs of our community are diverse, many people are dealing with a broad range of accessibility issues, and often the library has been their only place of support,’ says Casey Cardinia Libraries’ Bec Mitchem.
Libraries are assisting with setting up email addresses and myGov accounts, accessing Medicare online, linking the Medicare app to MyGov and the Services Victoria app, and downloading COVID-19 digital certificates.
For people without devices and/or internet access, libraries help with access to vaccination certificates and print them free of charge. Libraries are also assisting those ineligible for Medicare (such as temporary visa holders) to obtain an Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
‘In the first two weeks since reopening on 8 November, staff assisted 1,456 community members with vax help, one in every ten people who came to the library,’ says Pam Giumarra, Senior Library Coordinator at Brimbank City Council. ‘With Brimbank being a community of high diversity and low literacy there has been lots of positive feedback from people who said they wouldn’t have known what they would do if they couldn’t get help at the library.’
People from CALD communities, seniors, public housing residents and mothers with children are among those seeking support. ‘Twelve Moreland City Libraries staff have run nine outreach sessions to assist 71 community members obtain their Covid-19 proof of vaccination certificate and link the certificate to the Service Victoria app,’ says Library Unit Manager Georgina Earl. These have included sessions in Arabic, Italian and Turkish. Hume Libraries Coordinator Mieke Mellars estimates that library staff have assisted close to 700 people across three libraries, through outreach and online, with an average session time of 30 minutes per person.
‘After finding out that local businesses were charging a fee to assist people with connecting their certificates to the Service [Victoria] app, we stepped up very quickly to arrange drop in help sessions at each of our three branches,’ says Tanya Flockhart, Library and Information Services Manager at Glenelg Shire Council. She estimates Glenelg’s libraries have assisted 1,000 members of the community since proof of vaccination requirements were introduced.
Libraries are being innovative in order to provide services safely, delivering support in outdoor settings such as booths, outreach and pop-up facilities, as well as over the phone and online. ‘When libraries reopened on 3 November, we set up Vaccination Certificate Support Booths at [Caroline Springs and Melton libraries], and they have been a huge success,’ says Susie Prestney, Manager Libraries and Arts at Melton City Council. ‘Each day, we have helped on average eight people across both sites, spending between 30 and 60 minutes with each person… So far we’ve clocked 250 interactions.’
‘When City of Greater Dandenong Libraries re-opened on November 8 we set up marquees outside both libraries in Harmony Square and the Springvale Community Hubs,’ says Library Programs and Learning Coordinator Koula Kalaitzoglou. ‘We invited partners to participate in delivering the Digital Certificate Help Desk, with 13 local organisation supporting the delivery, including Jobs Victoria Advocates, Bi-cultural Workers and nurses from SEPHU. We were there to help people access their proof of vaccination digitally or by printing one for them. In the first week, we helped over 470 people and since then [we’ve helped] over 1,600 people to access their records and gain access to facilities, services, retail, hospitality and life in general.’
Similarly, City of Yarra Libraries are delivering outreach support in tents set up outside inner city housing estates, in partnership with a range of community organisations.
When Murrindindi Library Service received feedback that farmers in the local area were having difficulties accessing their digital vaccination certificates, they ran a pop-up session at the Yea Saleyards.
‘One Saturday morning, a lady came to the library very stressed and concerned she would be homeless for the weekend,’ reports Swan Hill Libraries’ Camille Cullinan. ‘She had lost her phone and wanted to use a computer to access her internet banking to transfer the money she needed to get through the weekend. None of the banks or community support services are open in our area on Saturday mornings, so the library was the only place she could access what she needed. Her vaccination proof was on her phone, so she had no way of showing us the required proof. We loaned her an iPad so she could sit out the front of the library and transfer money using internet banking.’
Libraries have used social media, fliers, posters, letter drops, advertisements in the local paper and word of mouth to promote their proof of vaccination support services. Those in state borders areas are assisting people to access multiple government service apps.
‘Here in Bayside, we supported 227 people coming to our branches with [vaccination] passport support, and ran two successful online sessions for 52 people,’ says Library Customer Service Coordinator Karen Reiter. ‘The tweet to promote the session has been liked by 72 people, shared by 22 and seen by 42.3 thousand Twitter users.’
Public libraries also continue to assist community members with vaccination information and appointments. Twenty-three library services are signed up as Vaccine Ambassadors with 79 staff so far trained by the Department of Health to address vaccine hesitancy.
Services also continue to be provided for patrons who are not vaccinated or hesitant to return to the library. ‘We are still offering click & collect, or a contactless delivery service for those who are unable to come into our buildings, as well as continuing to promote our eResources, and access to Wi-Fi in close proximity to our buildings,’ says Goulburn Valley Libraries’ Jenny Wylie. Adds Mesh Thomson, Libraries Manager at Gannawarra Shire Council, ‘On most occasions, staff have still ensured non-vaxxed people leave the library with their needs met.’
Darebin Libraries’ Melanie McCarten shares a story of an unvaccinated community member turning up at the library in desperate need of a computer. ‘They were stressed because their phone credit had expired so our team member offered the Wi-Fi outside… The community member was not only grateful but said, “I guess I’d better go get a vaccination” and we were able to discuss where to do it.’
Examples of Web-based support
Get help to download your Vaccination Certificate (Brimbank Libraries)
Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate Help Guides (Casey Cardinia Libraries)
Library COVID-19 updates page (Melton Libraries)
How to add your vaccination certificate to your Service Victoria app (Whitehorse Manningham Libraries – over 6,300 views on YouTube as of 13 Dec 2021)