LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — This week is National Library Week. Libraries provide a plethora of services for their communities. Although COVID-19 changed how libraries have been able to operate over the past year, they’ve adapted to continue serving as an important resource for patrons.
“The library’s role is broad,” says Ryan McCrory, executive director of the Lititz Public Library. “We are really a community hub,” says Lancaster Public Library executive director Lissa Holland.
From lending books and other materials to sharing information to providing access to technology like wi-fi hotspots, libraries play many roles. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the way they can fulfill those roles.
When the pandemic first swung through Pennsylvania, the libraries had to close, and patrons couldn’t come inside to browse the books or make use of library computers. Since then, the libraries have been able to reopen in stages. Guests are once again able to scour the shelves for the perfect finds or spend some time on the computers — albeit with masks, social distancing, limited capacity and lots of hand sanitizer — but things still aren’t back to the way they were before COVID-19.
“The saddest thing is that we haven’t been able to have live programming. We haven’t had people in our library as we are used to,” says Holland. Visitors can no longer hang out in the library reading books or working with friends, and all indoor programming is on hold at both the Lititz and Lancaster libraries.
The sites have been adapting their offerings to virtual and outdoor programs, though. McCrory emphasizes that at Lititz Public Library, “We’re not changing what we do. We’re expanding what we do.”
Both the Lititz and Lancaster facilities hold outdoor story times. At the Lititz library, guests can play an outdoor I Spy game with book covers in the window. The library also set up an outdoor StoryWalk in which families walk a short path and read pages of a children’s book spaced out along the way.
The libraries also offer virtual programming. McCrory says this has been a positive change, as individuals who may not be able to attend events in person due to scheduling conflicts or mobility challenges are able to participate online.
As the state slowly reopens, McCrory hopes that Lititz Public Library will be able to continue the new outdoor and virtual offerings. “One of the biggest issues moving forward is going to be, how do we maintain all the things that we’ve started doing and then [also] return to those things that we were doing before?” he says.
Holland looks forward to returning to typical in-person programming. While she does enjoy the opportunity for outdoor activities, she says many people are “virtual-ed out” by this point.
Another change for the Lititz and Lancaster libraries during COVID-19 has been expanding e-book offerings and other online rentals. “Where in 2019 we were seeing like 20,000 books being checked out electronically, last year it was 30,000,” says McCrory.
Libraries provide more than just books and story times, too. Lancaster Public Library and Lititz Public Library have wi-fi hotspots that guests can borrow. They have a limited number of computers that patrons can use at the library, and the Lititz library even recently acquired some laptops with hotspots that individuals can rent.
The hotspots are a hot commodity. “They are not sitting on our shelves,” says Holland, which is understandable in a time when so much of life revolves around virtual, online happenings.
Lancaster Public Library also encourages guests to sit outside the library on the front steps or in the courtyard and utilize the facility’s wi-fi. “No matter what time of day or night you come, there’s usually somebody in our courtyard using the wi-fi,” Holland says.
The technology offered by the libraries has been “extremely useful” lately, says McCrory, as people go online to look for vaccine appointments, extend unemployment benefits or apply for jobs.
On top of distributing books, technology and other materials, libraries build connections with other local organizations and serve as a connector between those organizations and the community. “We can direct you to so many other resources,” says Holland. For example, “if people need help with food or other day-to-day needs,” the library can help connect them with other nearby services, she explains.
“We’re not just the library that exists within the community. We are truly a part of the community,” says McCrory.
“We really are looking forward to opening our doors totally and getting back to pre-COVID-like situations, but until then, we are here, we are open,” says Holland.