Once welcoming whispered conversations and peaceful study sessions, the brick-covered building housing mountains of literature has had to pivot its plans to remain a resource for its community.
Amid studies showing the scarcity of library jobs, local libraries have adjusted and expanded their services through COVID, keeping their communities informed and engaged.
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Preliminary data and media coverage collected as part of the Library Layoff Tracking initiative show that not all library workers on leave since March have been reinstated on staff.
Regardless of the data, these local institutions appear to offer socially distanced options and virtual support to their community.
Sheila Killebrew, Director of Libraries, said the library operates its regular hours and has seen increased engagement with patrons, which has grown in circulation since last fiscal year.
In Davidson County, libraries opened a few months ago following the mask’s mandate, limiting visit times to 30 minutes or less and creating curbside pickups for people unable to wear a mask.
Libraries have also created hour-long computer sessions for people who need Internet access.
Branches closed for a month in April 2020, but answered phone calls and allowed access to electronic resources.
“We have found that the virtual programming we have instituted since the pandemic has opened up new avenues for us to engage with customers,” Killebrew said.
Since each branch has its own Facebook account, it posts stories and zoom book club meetings. One of the branches received nearly 400 views of an author speech, expanding their reach, which Killebrew is not sure exactly how that would have happened in person.
However, Killebrew had concerns that the digital divide would continue, which is important because virtual programming and electronic resources require an internet connection.
“Last year we were able to secure a grant of $ 74,000 from the State Library for hotspots,” Killebrew said. “We partnered with the three school systems in the county to provide them with access points, so we were able to meet their needs; once they satisfied those needs, we use the remaining hot spots for them. disseminate to our customers in the region. “
Killebrew believes libraries can help with local recovery if they continue to ask questions and find ways to support the community.
More than a 45-minute drive away, the Randolph County Public Library received strong support from communities and local governments during the pandemic.
Library staff have been able to pivot and innovate their mission of serving the region despite the disruption of traditional services. Services include traditional study, research and homework support centers, which help people find jobs, help bridge the digital divide, and cater to underserved areas of the community.
Director Ross Holt believes libraries have played a key role in helping communities navigate the pandemic and recovery.
County library staff have no concerns about a possible closure, as they believe the institution is the heart of the community, the only service that all community members can access every day to learn.
“We are fortunate to have a very well managed county and town government. We are not aware of the need to cut positions or services,” Holt said.
According to Holt, the library closed to the public on March 16 but started services in response to the pandemic.
- March 18 – launch of the curbside service and virtual programming.
- March 27 – suspension of all services except virtual programming due to home ordering
- April 6 – resumption of the telephone referral service.
- May 11 – resumption of curbside collection services such as library materials, computer printing, photocopies, faxing, extension services resumed home visits and institutional visits.
- March 22, 2021 – reopening of the library buildings to the public.
Quick to think back on their feet, library staff reoriented services and programs to suit changing circumstances, from developing sidewalk models to get books to improving access to books. electronic documents.
“The biggest innovation has been the move to virtual programming through Facebook and YouTube for kids,” Holt said. “We have seen a greater focus on the digital divide, the divide between those who have access to broadband and those who do not.”
State libraries are also taking advantage of the federal funding available through the State Library of North Carolina to address this problem in a large and small way in their communities.
The County Library received three CARES grants totaling $ 15,080. COVID recovery money continues to flow to libraries through the State Library Services and Technology Act.
“A grant provided 3D printers that we could use to make PPE, such as face masks, in times of shortage, educational library programs; another provided 20 iPads to the Parents as Teachers program to lend to their client families to enable families to better participate in the program. virtual home visits, ”said Holt.
The library sees a future ahead and is planning a three to five year strategic project that will help it grow into the future. The project collects the opinions of local elected officials and appointed officials, library staff, key community leaders, focus groups from area residents and the community.
“We hope the plan will tie us even more closely to the needs and aspirations of the community,” said Holt.
Petruce Jean-Charles is a government watch reporter. They are interested in what is going on in the community and are open to advice on people, businesses and issues. Contact Petruce at [email protected] and follow @PetruceKetsia on Twitter.