A library is a place of gathering and the closure of non-essential businesses due to COVID-19 has left many residents shut out of their routines.
The staff at Huntsville Public Library (HPL) quickly figured out how to adapt to this new reality.
“We looked at our website and thought it’s a good website but it’s a website that augments a physical library. So because the website is the library we had to rethink the whole thing,” said Maureen Cubberly, interim CEO of the library. “We’re in the midst of and we’ll soon launch the redesign of our website that is specific for these times. We’re adding things constantly. The library has always been a central place in the community where people of all walks of life, everyone from young parents to retired people from every socioeconomic group, come. The library is for everyone and that’s one of the reasons it’s important for us to continue to be there now.”
Cubberly said the new site will be user directed with a variety of categories from read to watch. Residents will have access to more electronic books, talking books, various videos and more access to movies.
To sign up for access to the library’s online materials, residents with a card can continue to use that or new users can sign up for an electronic account.
“We’re continuing to interact with the community in almost everything we did before,” said Cubberly. “But what we’re missing is that really important face-to-face, person-to-person smiles across the circulation desk and missing the people. It’s a huge loss. That’s the hard part.”
To try and off-set that as much as possible, Amber McNair, the children and youth librarian, is doing interactive programming online.
“She’s a remarkably creative person,” said Cubberly. “She’s created online activities for children; everything from taking the Lego club online to a knitting club, interactive storytime with Zoom. That’s a really exciting development. She’s moved her programming online.”
For adults there are a variety of links including free broadcasts from operas at the New York Metropolitan and live video updates from a former staff member who now runs a hobby farm.
“We’re trying to provide people with some diversions, in addition to the solid library resources they come for,” said Cubberly. “Relationships are more important than they’ve ever been. If we can’t see the people we want to see, we need to keep in touch with them. On that very personal level, our library users and new people are getting in touch with us. We’re trying to mitigate the isolation and loneliness people find themselves in.”
Staff have recently done an analysis on the website and discovered the numbers have increased.
“It’s a barrier-free library, for the next few months,” said Cubberly. “We’ve put these new measures into place. We’ve waived fees and we’ve doubled the visitors to some parts of the site, while tripling and quadrupling other parts. People want it and they find it useful. They wouldn’t keep coming back if they weren’t finding what they need.”
Cubberly encourages residents to provide their feedback on the site—what they like about it, what it’s missing, how could it be more helpful.
The library typically does activities for Earth Week (April 18 to 26) and they are this year as well, online.
“We want to increase engagement online and encourage people to stay at home,” said Cubberly. “We’re serving as a conduit, a pipeline, to get information, find it and learn things.”
The website will have a number of activities for each day of the week, along with links to Earth Day Canada, to the NASA earth observatory, and more.
“People have access to things they didn’t have before. We’re missing the people but we’re having success reaching out in this new way,” she said.
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