Outside my window, the snow is coming down. The garden sits empty and bare in my backyard. While working from home since March, I have watched the scene outside this window glide from spring to summer to fall. Now here we are at the beginning of a new year. Many of us may be reflecting on the year we’ve had- what has changed, what we’ve learned, and what we’re hoping for in 2021. I reached out to some of the librarians at the libraries in Jefferson County to hear their own reflections on 2020 and the effect it’s had on our community libraries.
Although the libraries were closed this spring, they reopened with safety measures, new services such as curbside pick-up, and plans to meet pandemic-related needs in their communities, such as outdoor Story Trails, increasing WiFi access to outdoor spaces, offering online programs and book bundles, and funding HelpNow, an online homework and tutoring tool.
“In 2020, it has been so important to be flexible and creative,” said Minetta Lippert, a librarian at the Dwight Foster Public Library. “Most of our old programs and services don’t work right now, so it’s been very important to think outside of the box to find new ways to serve the community.”
For example, the Karl Junginger Memorial Library in Waterloo developed several new and innovative programs, including weekly neighborhood scavenger hunts, a new outdoor Story Trail, a Beanstack reading tracking app, and take-home activity bags.
As Bridges Library System director Karol Kennedy reflected, “One thing that has been clearly demonstrated throughout this past year is the ability of libraries to transform. Again and again, libraries identify needs in their communities and find ways to respond to those needs.”
There have been challenges as well. Engaging with patrons in a virtual space, enforcing safety measures, and the uncertainty of the days ahead have been stressful for library staffs. Yet multiple library directors praised their staff for their innovation, creativity, and dedication during this difficult time. The gratitude and support from residents have also made the changes and difficulties worth it.
Amanda Brueckner, a librarian at the Karl Junginger Memorial Library, was originally disappointed in the changes they had to make for the Summer Library Program. However, “as we replanned and started to implement new summer literacy programs, families emailed, called, and visited our staff to say how much they appreciated what we were doing for them,” Amanda recalled.
The effects of the pandemic have proven that libraries are not irrelevant or obsolete, but essential to a thriving community. As one librarian stated, “In the face of closures and restricted services, I've realized fully that libraries are a lifeline for many. Some cannot go without a new book to read or film to watch. Some desperately need the computers, Internet, Wi-Fi, and technology services the library offers. Others deeply miss the social aspects and innate need to spend time in the library space.” Brueckner wanted the community to know that “our staff will continue to offer our services to the community whether our building is able to remain open or not, and in the safest way possible.”
Whether in-person or online, your library is here for you. In the new year, as in years past, this will continue to be true, no matter what we face.