In March of 2020 staff at the Warwick Public Library were told they would be working temporarily from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The physical location was closed but it didn’t stop the …
In March of 2020 staff at the Warwick Public Library were told they would be working temporarily from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The physical location was closed but it didn’t stop the library from serving the community.
“July 2020 to June 2021 was one of the most challenging years on record at the Warwick Public Library. We have been living through a pandemic, major staff fluctuations, and constant adjustment to the way we provide services to the public,” Library Director Jana Stevenson writes in her year in review report. “As a result of, or maybe even despite these challenges, staff have gone above and beyond in the effort to meet the needs of the community.”
After a year and a half of firsts the library will also be continuing to do things differently.
Recently the Library was awarded a Strengthening Libraries Project Grant for $49,850 by the RI Office of Library and Information Services and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
According to Stevens the grant will fund the purchase of an outreach vehicle that the Library will use to reach underserved populations in Warwick. The Library has partnered with Westbay Community Action to identify neighborhoods and agencies that are not able to reach the services the library provides. The cargo van will contain computers and hotspots that can be used to provide workforce development skills and access to services such as Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and bill pay assistance.
“We will also have the ability to check out items and provide traditional library programs such as storytime and book club meetings,” Stevens said. “We plan to start a meal club with supplies provided by the Marketplace food pantry. We are also planning to promote family literacy with the Summer Learning Program.”
She said that they hope to purchase a Ford Transit Cargo Van as soon as they can.
She said that they have a request for proposal on the City website.
Stevens said they will also need to get graphics for the exterior of the vehicle and set up the inside of it to hold all of the materials.
“We are hoping to be on the road by the end of winter, or very early spring,” Stevens said.
Stevens said that they broke up the four goals of the project into different categories.
One of those is connectivity and workforce development skills. She said some of the things they plan to do provide laptops and WiFi at each visit with assistance in using them. Library staff also plan on scheduling training sessions onsite to assist with online job applications and access to workforce training programs.
For their goal of helping with food insecurity Stevens said that they plan on having meal kit programs which will feature a recipe and the food needed to make the meal. Upon return to the location the library will hold follow up discussions about the meal.
Stevens said that when they are helping adults they will also be helping children at the same time.
“While adults are receiving one on one assistance and utilizing our onboard resources, their children will be provided with a story time and craft program that incorporates early literacy and school readiness skills,” Stevens said.
Library staff also hope to promote a sense of community through the project.
“The pandemic sent families indoors and many are struggling with depression and social emotional issues,” Stevens said. “A visit from the mobile library will provide a supportive gathering place for the community.”
The addition of the outreach vehicle will come almost two years after the pandemic began.
Starting right after library staff was told they would be working at home they began to make changes.
Knowing that they would need to do things online to connect with the community Ellen O’Brien, the deputy director for the Library said that they immediately looked at their web page, and updated it so it featured their database, ebooks and resources that people would need.
They also worked with the school district to create tutorials so people would know how to use the databases.
O’Brien said that because of the need for more digital materials the library staff began to pivot on what materials they purchased.
“We really shifted spending and purchased a lot of e-materials,” O’Brien said.
According to the annual Library report digital usage went up by 22 percent and 117,599 ebooks, audiobooks, music albums, movies, TV shows, and stories were downloaded or streamed.
While working from home, Staff began developing programming that could be done remotely including things like virtual story times and book clubs, outdoor programs, and take-n-make crafts.
According to the annual report the library had 378 programs with 12,312 participants between July 2020 and June of 2021.
Since local teens continued to need community service hours for numerous things the library started a virtual VolunTEENS program. Teens crafted get-well cards for hospitalized children, created tutorial videos, made homemade gifts for deployed soldiers, and wrote peer reviews.
In total 43 volunteers contributed 333 volunteer hours over the course of a year.
While the library reached many people in the community, O’Brien said that they have more patrons in person than they did virtually.
“When the doors are open and people can come at their leisure we certainly see more people. But we felt that we were able to connect with the people who were looking for us and also reach out to those who may not realized that ‘yes we’re still here the building’s close but we are here for you,” O’Brien said.
Stevenson said that when the library reopened again in July of 2020 they saw about 9,600 visits to the library, compared to 2019 when they had 29,000 visits.
She said it was important when they reopened because the DMV and other places continued to be closed and only did things through fax and email, something that not everyone has access to. Stevenson said that people were able to get those services through the library.
“That was a huge thing especially in July, August, September of last year. People were so thankful that we were open again and allowing services,” she said.
Like many other places it has been slow out of the gates for the library to see in person visitors again at the volume they had before.
“It’s taken a while for people to come back. Over the summer we’ve started reaching daily and monthly door counts of something more that was like we had in the past,” Stevenson said.
She said that they have been engaging with the community to try to bring patronage numbers back up.
“We are making a huge effort to reach out into the community … we are making efforts to turn that around.”
This July she said that they reached 14,000 visits which was the highest total month during the pandemic.
Despite not having as many faces walking through the doors as they did pre pandemic O’Brien said that they are glad to have been open without any interruptions since January of 2021.
“It’s been wonderful for us and patrons to see each other again. When they come back in they are so excited to be back. We really missed our community.”
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