It was the middle of March 2020, just a mere five days until NJ Makers Day. The Warren County Library had applied and received grants, procured supplies, coordinated staff and publicized this popular event. And then we got the call. The library would be closed indefinitely, all programs cancelled due to the public health threat of Covid-19.
As Covid-19 reached pandemic levels, the library had to change the way we conduct business. Libraries are known for books and places to study. Over the past decade we have evolved with the needs for our patrons to include audiobooks, movies, music, computer access, and educational programs. We are a place of community, a learning hub, access to technology and tools, but also a place of conversation and a listening ear. What does a county wide library system do when we could no longer interact with the public in person? The answer is simple- we find a new way to connect to people.
When our physical doors were closed, Warren County Library system opened a window- into the virtual world. Our mission was to continue to educate, enlighten and entertain all from within a statewide quarantine. We began our digital foray by hosting Virtual Story times twice a week on our Facebook page. We offered live interactive adult craft tutorials. Our first adult craft, DIY Fabric Face Masks, aired live just as the NJ governor announced that masks must be worn in public. Our Makerspace Coordinator, Sandy Roberts, has created diverse STEAM programs twice a week such as Maker Monday’s Little Luminaries program to Friday STEAM’s Newspaper Pots.
Besides virtual opportunities, we have returned to an old-fashioned and personal way to connect with people. Library staff have been making phone calls to patrons to check in on them, share what we have to offer and answer any questions. No one rushes off the phone as our staff spends hours chatting with the people we miss and who miss us right back. This simple act has been a blessing to our patrons, with many of them in complete isolation and craving social interaction.
What else could the public library do during the quarantine? We provided library staff members to assist essential services to the residents of Warren County. They did this by operating the Covid-19 hotline to schedule appointments for testing at the Warren County Covid-19 test site. These staff members field a number of calls each day from very ill people who need guidance through the process and require testing appointments. Additionally, Sandy Roberts has also been utilizing the library’s 3-D printers to make face shields, ear savers and buttons for our healthcare worker heroes in Warren County.
These are the many ways a public library can survive and thrive during a pandemic. We have found ways to stay connected despite the distance. Although you may hear the background noises of little voices of our children, you may see the clutter in our kitchens and living rooms, and the whiskers and wags of our beloved pets as we work from our homes- just know one thing. We are still open even though our doors are closed. This is what the public library system can offer you beyond books and we hope we have helped our patrons navigate these challenging times. We wish everyone stay happy and healthy and we will see you soon.
Written by Erin Sobczak, Sr. Library Assistant with the Warren County Library