Libraries Are Beacons of Hope During Pandemic

Schoolgirl selecting book from book shelf in library at school

When the Hartland Public Library began offering curbside pickup of materials during the pandemic this spring, community members sewed masks for the staff to keep them safe. The gesture made library director Laura Gest realize how beloved the library is in the Hartland community. “The community support has been wonderful. It was fantastic to hear how grateful patrons were when we opened back up.”

While the libraries in Jefferson and Waukesha County closed their buildings during March and April, most are now open in some capacity to the public. (As of this printing, the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library in Whitewater has halted in-person service, but is offering curbside pickup).

Libraries Offer Services While Staying Safe

If you visit your library today, you’ll notice a few changes, since each library is taking precautions for the health and safety of patrons and staff. Most encourage or require mask use (staff are required to wear masks), library materials are quarantined and cleaned before being reshelved, the libraries are instituting rigorous cleaning, and Plexiglas shields have been installed.

Curbside service is also still available at many libraries for those who do not want to enter the building. “Our curbside pickup service has been really fantastic during this time,” said Stephanie Ramirez, director of the Delafield Public Library. “It was in our plans to implement this down the road but COVID rapidly accelerated our launching of this service. Patrons have responded incredibly positively and I am hopeful we will be able to continue curbside throughout the COVID crisis.”

Yet even with the changes you may see at the library on your next visit, you’ll still be able to find materials and resources, as well as quality help from library staff. “Being able to be open and serve the community is so important to our library staff during this time,” said Kelli Mountford, director of the Karl Junginger Memorial Library in Waterloo. “Our staff loves when our community members enter the library with a smile on their face because they are so excited to get new materials in their hands.”

Creative Solutions to Unprecedented Problems

When challenges due to the pandemic arose, librarians and library staff worked to find creative solutions to continue to serve their communities. For example, the Waukesha Public Library created a “Library Care Package” for kids ages birth-12, where librarians pull books for kids based on the books they already love. Parents or guardians can fill out the form on the library’s website; so far, the program has been “very popular,” according to Gay.

Recently, the Johnson Creek Public Library started a “Pay It Forward” campaign to help people pay their fines so “nobody is blocked from access to services and resources when they need it most,” said Armour. The library has been encouraging patrons to “use what they need” and “give when they can.”

Virtual Programming Brings Libraries Into Homes

Many libraries continue to offer virtual programs too. “Because we had to think differently about how we offered services,” said Brittany Larson, director of the Muskego Public Library, “we ran our first virtual program that was streamed to a local retirement community’s in-residence cable channel!”

As our reality continues to shift and uncertainties lie ahead, it’s comforting to know the library and library staff are available to help with whatever you may need. Whether in the building or online, the library offers access to quality information, extensive collections of entertainment and research materials, and services ranging from streaming movies and TV shows on the free Hoopla app, to job resources and early literacy programs.

“Needed more than ever”

“Libraries are needed more than ever,” said Armour. “The modern library doesn’t merely exist within the walls of the building but wherever a community member needs resources.”

“During times of crisis, nothing is more needed in society than the Library,” Ramirez added. “The Library is a beacon of hope, positivity, knowledge, and community. Not even a global pandemic can change that.”

Visit your local library or check their website for more information on what your library can offer you!

Written by Jill Fuller. A version of this article appeared in several local newspapers in July. We are sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.