How Libraries Continue to Serve During the Pandemic

COVID-19 disrupted just about every aspect of life in America…and libraries were not immune. Officially, they’re book repositories, but public libraries also operate as community centers, technology access points, continuing education centers, after-school hangouts, and unofficial social services agencies. When the pandemic forced libraries across the country to shut down, their doors may have locked but their work never stopped. From finding creative new ways to continue regular services (e.g., curbside book pickup, e-library card sign-ups, virtual storytime) to offering pandemic-specific services, libraries have stepped up in a big way. The Bas Bleu community is full of library lovers (and February is Library Lovers Month), so we thought we’d share just a handful of examples of how libraries continue to serve during the pandemic.

In Middletown, Connecticut, Russell Library was forced to pause its popular Book Talk with a Walk program when the pandemic began. But when summer dawned, the library began hosting Book Yak on a Kayak, pairing group book discussions with leisurely paddles on a local lake…all from the socially distanced safety of individual kayaks!

In Illinois, seven Chicago Metropolitan Area public libraries teamed up with Joliet Public Library for Operation HOPE (Handing Out Protective Equipment), joining forces to collect personal protective equipment for hard-hit area hospitals. Library patrons were invited to donate face masks, surgical gowns, disposable lab coats, hand sanitizer, bleach wipes, and other supplies for healthcare workers by depositing them in the libraries’ book drops.

Arlington Public Library in Virginia created Quaranzine, an online collection of creative works—such as paintings, poems, and photographs—from their community, designed to document “how we responded to this strange time we find ourselves in.” Weekly issues focus on such themes as “Keep Your Chin Up,” “Holding Steady,” “All Together Now,” and “Confronting Racism.”

In southwest Louisiana, the Calcasieu Parish Public Library’s community was dealt not one, but three terrible blows: the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Laura in August, and Hurricane Delta in October. Though the storms forced several branches to close, the library staff knew their patrons needed their technology services more than ever. They set up weekly pop-up sites throughout the parish, where people could use library computers—to file insurance and FEMA claims, search and apply for jobs, and communicate with the outside world—in outdoor tents that allowed for social distancing.

In Tennessee, the Chattanooga Public Library moved many of its children’s programs online, creating entertaining and educational videos for kids and supplying craft ideas to parents…and soon learned they were reaching (and teaching) little ones far beyond their usual service area. The library also put its non-book collections to good use, using on-site 3D printers to produce components for face shields and doling out sewing machines to work-from-home staffers who whipped up fabric face masks for local organizations.

School libraries became more creative, too, delivering books to students at home via drones, setting up weekly pop-up libraries where kids can safely pick up and return books they’ve checked out online, and finding new ways to support parents struggling to help their children learn at home.

“The one thing that unites all libraries of every kind is that we’re here to serve,” says Joliet Public Library Executive Director Megan Millen. “Nothing is worse for a library staff than to be forced to close our doors to a public that truly needs us. Therefore, we have all looked for new and unique ways to continue that service…It’s our natural instinct to jump in to do whatever we can to help.”

How has your local library continued to serve during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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2 thoughts on “How Libraries Continue to Serve During the Pandemic

  1. One bright day in this pandemic was the day my library opened for pick up service. I always knew the library was important to me, but I didn’t realize just how much until I had to go months without.

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