Before we begin, I have a quick disclaimer. I will be talking about my own local libraries for the majority of this article. I know not every city has been as concerned with the safety of their librarians during this time. Some have already returned to full in-person services. I have really big feelings about this, which I go into a bit later on. My intention is not to sound insensitive to the librarians who have been put into unsafe work situations during the pandemic.
I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that this last year has been, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. (Sorry not sorry for the song stuck in your head). But yeah; it's been wild. On the one hand, we have shown that, if need be, we can quickly and drastically alter our lifestyles. Switching to work and school from home wasn't as tricky as I thought it would be.
One the other hand it hasn't been all easy, since sheltering in place got old very quickly. The divide on the best way to try to flatten the curve only further served to separate our country. It didn’t help that almost every elected official, including the then President, kept flip flopping on how best to handle it. Small businesses shut down because they no longer had income flowing in and weren’t getting government assistance. And some bigger businesses got help that they frankly didn't need.
One thing that has kept consistent this entire time: libraries.
Which isn't to say that they didn't shut down at all, since they did. I was not one of those who was demanding that libraries be open to the public right away, either. Libraries are made up of librarians, and librarians are people who also deserve to be safe and healthy.
Brief story time!
There is one librarian who will always be special in my heart. We’ll call her Mrs. C. She always recognized me and my son when we went into that branch and said hi. She also encouraged him to read with the "Paws & Read" dog to help strengthen his skills if we were there when it was happening. If I go in alone she always asks about him. Mrs. C is good people.
And I would rather wait another year to see her in person safely than rush and have her be at risk.
Even though they have paused full services, my libraries have still strived to make sure that they are available to patrons. It’s just on a limited and restricted level. And they’ve gone above and beyond in terms of virtual events and staying engaged.
Virtual Library Events
Back in a February edition of the Kissing Books newsletter, I mentioned that I attended a Romance Reader’s Social virtually. While it was not as great as being there in person, it was still enjoyable. We still got to see and hear from some excellent voices in the genre. And we even got to make a craft, though it didn’t last too long (see the sad aftermath pictured).
It's all in one piece now. But I’m hesitant to hang it up again.
They also have quarterly "Book Buzz" events, for those reading YA and up. These events highlight new releases across all genres. There are also opportunities to get surprise book boxes with ARCs and other library swag, such as bookmarks, pop-sockets, and face masks. Now, the books are hit or miss, but hey; it’s still a free book. If it’s not your bag then you pass it along. My apartment put up a Little Free Library last year at the start of the pandemic and I have re-homed many books through it.
Craft nights are also still a regular occurrence with limited supply boxes available. They always posted the instructional videos fairly quickly, so you could also try to get your own supplies to follow along later. Authors have come to speak from the safety and comfort of their own homes, which has allowed for the patrons to hear from more than just local authors.
Established book clubs are still going strong as well. They just moved to virtual meet-ups so that the members could still have their time together. Heck, they even kept up circle time for preschoolers and babies so that moms would still have some type of social interaction with other moms during a time that can be tricky even when not exacerbated by a pandemic.
These types of virtual events weren't just for bookish content. There have also been tea tastings, ukulele clubs, groups for pre-teens, etc. These events provide multiple opportunities for people who, like me, live in an area where the library isn’t open to the general public yet, to still be able to enjoy the benefits of the library.
More Than Meet-Ups
Libraries also stepped up outside of virtual meetings. That type of fatigue is real, even when it comes to bookish fun. I've gotten tired of looking at the meeting interface on a computer screen for hours on end; as such, I've had to tap out on a few myself over the last year. Even if I’m reading on a screen, it’s still different than being in a meeting setting. A lot of libraries have opened up their digital collections to people outside their city but in their state.
A personal example for me would be the Houston Public Library. Last March, they opened up their digital collection to anyone who lived in Texas. All they had to do was prove it. As a result of that generosity, I now have three cards in my Libby app (don’t judge me).
Speaking of digital loaning, for the first few months, Hoopla increased the amount of loans one could take in some locations. This was a boon to a lot of library patrons, especially those that used weekly library trips as a way to get out of the house as well as exceptionally fast readers.
Other libraries, like the White Oak Library District, have also created Virtual Escape Rooms, which is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. I am not even kidding; I fell into the romance one when writing a newsletter and had to remind myself, “Oh, I should be writing right now.”
These types of events are just another way that libraries are really stepping up their game and showing how relevant they really are. I’ll be the first to admit that one of the things I’ve missed the most is going to the library. I didn’t realize how often I went to the library in person on a regular basis.
Even on the rare occasion where I went in and didn’t get a book (it happened once or twice!), I still loved going there and looking around. While I miss seeing the new releases, creative themed displays thoughtfully put together by the librarians, and just being in a place where I could relish the quiet, I can wait to be able to safely go back.