contributed by Raman Bath, County Librarian
I’m pleased to share with you the achievements my team at the Fresno County Public Library has accomplished during a most challenging year. While we have been disappointed that we cannot serve our community in person, I’m proud to say that our team has stepped up to the challenge of meeting the community’s needs in expanded and some brand new ways.
When we first closed for indoor services in March of 2020, it was challenging to say the least. Many of our staff volunteered to work in the Department of Public Health as disaster service workers and provided much-needed contact tracing. Currently, the Library still has employees working as medical investigators, contact tracers, and even several who have volunteered to work in the vaccination clinics to help roll out vaccines to those who need them most.
For the staff who continued their library duties, we quickly realized that our focus had to shift to virtual. Our branches were switched to permanent Wi-Fi mode allowing 24/7 access for the first time. In many branches, we were able to expand access points and network coverage and improve speeds to ensure patrons had adequate access to the technology they needed.
By May 18, the Library opened curbside services, the first to do so in the Central Valley. This function has continued unabated since then, and the feedback we receive from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. People were glad to browse, even if it was through a window or outdoors, check out books, pick up holds, make copies and obtain prints. They appreciated just being able to talk to someone, too, and there was a genuine feeling that the community missed the staff and the services we provide.
With programs going online, it was natural that the Summer at Your Library would be 100% virtual as well. We still had some branches provide State-mandated lunches in a safe and contactless manner. Many Friends groups also provided the opportunity for staff to supply “take and make” crafts for the community during this time. The Library implemented the Bookpoints reading program, an online platform that encouraged and tracked reading. This meant we could still provide prizes and incentives for young and adult readers alike, further cementing that even with the pandemic, the Library was still here for the community. Our performances were switched to social media allowing for slideshows, videos, and the like to be aired on Facebook, the website, and our YouTube channel. Many staff continued engaging the community with book discussion and chat series via Zoom to ensure that despite any social distancing restrictions, we could still reach out to our communities.
Naturally, our Overdrive and e-book collection has been seeing record usage every month while curbside services have remained steady. We still circulate about 30% of the materials we usually would when we are open, but the back-end storage, quarantine of items, and circulation has become a very labor-intensive endeavor. That’s not the case for the virtual collection. It increases so rapidly that in time it will even eclipse the biggest circulating branches in the system combined. It’s already the most circulating “branch” with over 2,700 circulations in a day but will likely outpace the regionals combined at this rate. All our databases, whether used for children in school or adults needing access to the paper or magazines, have flourished.
During this time, the branches have been updated to ensure compliance with COVID restrictions. Safety for staff and the public is of paramount concern, so physical barriers and signage are commonplace. Staff regularly clean after interactions, and all high-traffic areas are also further cleaned on an hourly basis. Our maintenance and facilities team sanitizes locations in need and this process ensures the safety of our staff and the public.
We have been proactive and have served as a leader for library services across the Central Valley and, to some extent, the state. We have been operating 1-2 days per week for indoor services for many months now and this too was welcome news to the community. As restrictions begin to ease further, we will continue to provide services and expand our role to get Library business back to normal.
In closing, the pandemic has shifted our focus to a virtual environment. While we are pleased to meet the community’s needs in this way, it cannot compare to the traditional programs and services the Library provides. Only so much can be done remotely, and curbside services, while a blessing, do not make up for the role a library serves in the community. Once we get back to a sense of normal, I look forward to opening meeting rooms back up and having face-to-face programming once again without the fear of spreading an illness. Until then, we will work with our community partners, the staff, the Friends, and other County agencies to continue providing support as best as possible wherever we can as long as the pandemic persists.
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