Libraries Look Back On 2020

2020 in Libraries: A Year of Challenges and Rewards

As 2020 draws to a close, most of us are 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 and Waukesha counties to hear their own reflections on the year and the effect it’s had on our community libraries.

Responding To A Crisis

“When the world shut down, Bridges Library System’s member libraries did not say ‘See you when it’s safe again,’” said Stephanie Ramirez, director of the Delafield Public Library, in answer to my email. “They answered the call with ‘How can we meet our patrons’ needs now, right here, in this moment.’”

Although the libraries were closed this spring, they reopened in summer with safety measures, new services such as curbside pick-up, and plans to meet pandemic-related needs in their communities, such as increasing WiFi access to outdoor spaces, offering online programs and book bundles, and funding HelpNow, an online homework and tutoring tool.

Person wearing mask and standing next to a parked car, holding a plastic bag filled with items. The driver of the car is sticking their head out of the window and smiling.
Betsy Bleck, director of the Oconomowoc Public Library, at curbside pickup service

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.” Although libraries have had to adapt, library services “have emerged as one of the things that provide some semblance of normalcy in these turbulent times,” said Edell Schaefer, director of the Brookfield Public Library.

Residents Express Gratitude for Libraries

The gratitude and support from residents prove the truth of that statement. “When the Elm Grove Public Library reopened, the (socially distanced) flood of familiar and unexpected faces expressing just how much they missed us and their library was deeply felt,” said Noah, a librarian there. “I think the three-month closure made a lot of folks realize what a valuable community resource the public library is, and it was wonderful to feel their support.”

Amanda Brueckner, a librarian at the Karl Junginger Memorial Library in Waterloo, 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,” Brueckner recalled.

Five children dancing in front of a TV screen in a living room. A band is performing onscreen.
Local children participating in the Summer Library Program performances from home

The Big Bend Public Library started an outdoor picnic-in-the-park program for preschoolers and their parents this summer. Karla Lang, director of the library, recalled that “One mother had tears in her eyes when she told me how much it meant to have somewhere to go with her kids.”

When the Delafield Public Library created Teen Self-Care Kits, they were so popular they had to make more after only one day. One teen told a library staff member how hard her year had been and how much she appreciated the gesture from the library.

ProHealth Care named the Mukwonago Community Library as a Community Hero for making medical supplies with the library’s 3D printer.

Pandemic Proves Libraries Are Not Obsolete

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 effects of the pandemic have proven that libraries are not irrelevant or obsolete, but essential to a thriving community.

As Noah at the Elm Grove Public Library 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.”

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.

Written by Jill Fuller. A version of this article appeared in several local newspapers in December 2020. We are sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.