Libraries are a great place to get books, movies, magazines, and music, but the services they offer go well beyond reading materials. They also offer free internet service and printing; local historical archives; programs for children, teens, and adults; a place to gather for meetings and classes—and much more.
Rieta Drinkwine, Executive Director of the Union County Libraries, and Susan Myers, Director of Teen Services at Spartanburg County Public Libraries, answered some questions about how their libraries have found ways to continue serving during the pandemic.
Q: What kinds of behinds-the-scenes library functions have been going on during the pandemic?
Rieta: Since we closed our doors in March, much of what we have been doing is now behind-the-scenes. Library staff have continued to provide services remotely by phone, email, and chat. We’re providing access to library materials through no-contact book and activity kit pick-ups, as well as substantially increasing items available electronically. Additionally, we’re now providing daily virtual programs. Some of the most important behind-the-scenes work the library is now doing is working to address immediate and basic needs. One example of these efforts is the newly compiled comprehensive list of resources to support our community during COVID-19, which is accessible on our website. Another example of these efforts is that the team contacted and registered seniors for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and with the library’s assistance this year, Union had its highest participation ever. The library has also worked to identify alternative funding options in order to expand access to resources county-wide while the main facility is providing limited services, with the primary focus on expanding internet access.
Susan: It depends on the department. SCPL opened back up on June 3rd, but before that our branch staff and Circulation Department staff took turns going in to all of our locations to empty book drops, quarantine, and process returned items. Some administrative staff still reported in when necessary–like our Director and Assistant Directors, our Human Resources staff, our Finance Department staff, etc. Our Nurse Practitioner was still open. Our Collection Management department was busy adding more ebooks and resources while finding new ways to make them accessible to more people. Our Graphic Designers and Web Services staff kept our website and social media updated. Our Local History Department offered virtual genealogy classes. Adult, Teen, and Children’s Services were busy scrapping our original plans for summer reading and coming up with a new one-size-fits-all reading program, in addition to planning a slate of virtual programs. You’d be surprised how much happens behind the scenes to operate a library system, so those are just some highlights!
Q: What do you see as the biggest impact of the pandemic in terms of some of the social functions of a library, and were you able to find a way to continue to serve those functions in a limited way?
Rieta: The biggest impact of the pandemic on the library is the inability for folks to gather at the library. While we are able to provide support for virtual meetings and programs, including providing activity kits for childcare providers, we miss having people in the library and having kids use our slide! We have been focused on reallocating resources to areas of need and where we can provide services, including virtual programs and addressing basic needs.
Susan: Oh, wow–so much! Libraries are a social place. From a Teen Services standpoint, there’s no way to replace the in-person services and space we offered teens pre-pandemic. So this has caused us to get creative and really utilize social media to stay connected with teens. We have weekly contests for gift cards and books, we perform live reader’s advisory via our Instagram story, we have an SCPL Teens island on Animal Crossing where we host Island Hangouts on Friday afternoons, and we have new virtual teen programs every Wednesday at 2pm. Several other departments who serve a whole spectrum of ages also offer weekly programs. We strive to have something for everyone! In terms of library collections, all of our e-resources (of which there are many!) became overnight superstars because they were accessible when our physical collections weren’t. Even now with the library back open, people might still opt to use our e-resources from the safety of their own home.
Q: What do you miss most from pre-COVID days about life at your library? Will you need to do something creative to bring that thing back?
Rieta: I think we all miss the sound of children using the slide and attending programs in our children’s area! We know how much the kids are ready to be back at the library and expect little delay in them returning once they’re able to.
Susan: Speaking specifically from my role, it’s seeing teens in person! The Teen Hub is so lonely without them. All of our fun things are put away–no button maker, guitar, video game systems, furniture, etc.–so we’re trying to find ways to send fun home with them. Four of our summer programs have what we’re calling Pick Me Ups (while supplies last!). Two author programs have books teens can request, our Digital Escape Room has an optional 360 component that can be enjoyed with a free cardboard virtual reality headset, and teens could request a watercolor art kit for our Watercolor Art program.
What else do you want people to know about what you’re doing at your library?
Reita: We have slowly begun reopening all of our facilities in order to ensure the safety of our team and our patrons. We are currently focused on essential services, including support for students, employment assistance, and access to benefits, and we are continuing to provide all of our remote services as well.
Susan: This has been a challenging time for everyone, but also super interesting because it’s forced us to adapt and learn new skills in a really understanding environment. We’ve been free to experiment because nothing is like it was! We might not get to see our library regulars, but for example–teens who didn’t have transportation to us before can now enjoy library programs from their house. I look forward to figuring out new ways to safely deliver library services to the community. Hopefully some of what we learn and create during this time makes the transition to post-pandemic life!
Upstate Library Hours:
Abbeville: Click here to see hours for all branches
Anderson: Click here for hours as well as COVID-19 information
Cherokee: Gaffney 9-5, Blacksburg 1-5; please wear a mask
Greenville: Hughes Main Library is now open; curbside holds pickup available at other locations
Greenwood: 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday
Laurens: Still curbside and online only
Oconee: 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday; please wear a mask
Pickens: Click here to see hours for all branches
Spartanburg: Click here to see hours for all branches as well as other available services by appointment
Union: Click here to see hours for all branches