Libraries Provide Digital Connections for Communities

Libraries Provide Digital Connections for Communities

Most people, including myself, have been practicing social distancing in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. We try to limit time spent in public and contact with others in order to protect ourselves, our families, and the individuals who are most highly at risk. In response to the crisis, many organizations, like libraries, are temporarily closed to physical visitors.

However, libraries are still providing an array of resources and materials to help families within their communities to remain connected. At a time when our physical connection to others is limited, digital opportunities to remain engaged are incredibly important. Public libraries across the country have responded to the social, educational, and entertainment needs of our families in encouraging and creative ways.

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Online Storytimes: Education, Fun, and Rhymes!
As a former Youth Services Librarian, I know that when it comes to providing opportunities for children to learn and grow, libraries are absolutely awesome! One of the most exciting activities for young library visitors is attending storytime with family and friends. Fortunately, families do not have to forgo library storytime, even if library buildings are close.

Like a lot of other library services, storytimes are increasingly available online. Digital storytimes have been available through larger public libraries for a long time. (Check out these links to event calendars to see online storytimes made available to the public by the Seattle Public Library, the New York Public Library, and the Los Angeles Public Library.)

Online library storytime services are increasing across the country, and even more families are able to connect via online storytimes from their communities. Stephanie K. Bonestell of the Durham County Public Library in North Carolina, who explains that her library is now offering online storytime opportunities on the DCL web site. The Durham County Library typically offers traditional storytimes, but has expanded its online services by adding programs like these.

The Seattle Public Library, which offers free storytimes several times per week on their Facebook page, also weighs in on the topic.:

“At a time when parents are struggling to provide structure, we hope that virtual story times with our beloved children’s librarians will provide the regular learning benefits of story time, as well as a comforting new routine that families can turn to,” said Josie Watanabe, managing librarian for Youth and Family Services for The Seattle Public Library.

It’s wonderful that libraries have found new and entertaining ways to promote literacy and social skills among children in their communities. Seeing the familiar face of a local librarian can be incredibly reassuring, as well as exciting, to children.

Check your public library’s site to find out about digital resources that are available for your young family members. And, if you don’t have a library card, it’s unlikely that you will need one in order to access these programs. Many libraries, including the Durham County Library, are now offering temporary library cards in order to serve as many community members as possible during this time. Likewise, the Seattle Public Library is offering “instant digital cards” for new patrons in the Seattle area.

“We are working hard to find new ways to support Seattle residents during this unprecedented public health crisis,” said SPL Circulation Services Manager Bo Kinney, adding “Whether you’re a parent looking for a just-right chapter book, a telecommuter brushing up on skills or a senior who wants a light read after a heavy day of news, we have resources for you.”

Let’s Learn: Digital Homework Help and More
Older children and teens often love the library just as much as young storytime attendees. After all, your local librarian can make research a snap, as well as offer great youth events for school-aged library visitors. If you live with children or teens, you know how important it is to keep them entertained. Furthermore, even professional educators need the help of outside resources when it comes to teaching.

Amy Geduldig of the New York Public Library shared a link to the Remote Learning Resources that her library offers for Pre-K through 12th grades. These include Academic Support, Engaging Activities to Do at Home, and Resources For Educators. You can check out one of the following links from the NYPL to find everything from science experiments to suggestions of poems to read together with your child: Learn at Home calendars for Grades Pre-K–2, Grades 3–5, Grades 6–8, and Grades 9–12.

Geduldig also shared that the NYPL “recently partnered with online tutoring service Brainfuse to offer all New York area students access to free after-school homework help, including virtual one-on-one tutoring in a wide range of subjects for K-12 students.” The service is free with a Library card.

Like Geduldig in New York, Stephanie Bonestell of the Durham County Library assures the locals that her library’s services remain “free and open to the public.”

“Libraries are equalizers and act as support systems for their communities,” Bonestell explained, “Community members need to know that their libraries are there.” She also explained that the Durham County Library would be offering “a lot more online programming” to provide for families during the crisis.

From Miss Humblebee’s Academy, an e-learning resource for young children, which is available through libraries like the Los Angeles Public Library, to online tutoring for teens from the Chicago Public Library, there are plenty of ways to help your student learn! Let your library boost your child’s education.

Take Advantage of Digital Educational Services
If you’re typically a frequent library visitor, you probably love learning opportunities and exploring new ideas. Libraries provide excellent educational programs that allow individuals to learn alongside family members, friends, and community members. Due to concern and respect for public safety, many libraries are now offering additional online learning programs and resources for adults.

In my experience, many library visitors want to learn more about career opportunities, as well as sharpen their professional skills. Libraries provided highly valuable job resources and programs, and this is especially important for the public to realize during a time of high unemployment. In a recent press release, the Seattle Public Library shared that it “offers many virtual resources that can help job seekers, hobbyists and others, including the Your Next Skill service, which will send you a personalized learning plan on a topic of your choice within four days.” The release also includes the information that “job seekers can find many other job-related resources on the [Seattle Public] Library’s website, including topic guides on starting a job search during the COVID-19 era and navigating the unemployment insurance process in Washington State.”

Several libraries around the country, including the Los Angeles Public Library, and most libraries in North Carolina, my home state, provide access to the Gale Testing & Education Reference Center. According to this resource, it provides “300 practice tests and courses, information on over 4,000 accredited schools, e-books containing study materials and practice tests, scholarship search, resume builder, and career modules with subjects from career change to salary negotiations.” Whether you are planning to change your career path, or just exploring employment possibilities, Gale TERC is an excellent resource!

While some library visitors learn best by guiding themselves, others prefer to reach out for individual help.

“Our Job Search career coaches now provide 1:1 virtual career counseling,” shared Geduldig at the New York Public Library, “and our reference librarians at AskNYPL remain available to support patrons with any questions or inquiries they may have about the Library’s resources, collections, or services.”

Visit your library’s site to find out about career counseling options, and check your library’s event calendar to find out about related online courses.

Community members all over the country rely upon their libraries to meet their learning needs, including when they need to find information about vital resources. The Seattle Public Library offers a Community Resource Specialist Program. It’s a free service which can be accessed via phone or email, and according to SPL, “It aims to help Seattle’s most vulnerable residents connect to shelter, food, utility assistance.” The program also provides community members with and updated COVID-19 resources.

“Although the Library’s physical locations are closed, folks can still turn to the Library to get their questions answered,” said Brooke Castleberry, clinical supervisor for the program. “We’re doing the best we can to listen closely and can get people the help they need during a very overwhelming time.”

Explore Entertaining Materials and Programs Online
Often, learning and fun occur at the same time. I am personally very fond of public library classes which teach art skills to adults! Attending classes like these provides an interesting way to learn alongside others.

During the current state of events, many libraries have moved their entertainment programs and book club meetings online. Libraries all over the country offer fun online adult classes and ways to connect with others. For example, the Los Angeles Public Library invites residents to attend “Virtual Tea Time,” “Laughter Yoga,” and the “Virtual Cookbook Club” online. You can read about upcoming virtual events for both adults and seniors at LAPL by viewing the library’s calendar.

As always, libraries are still a great place to check out books for entertainment! Log into your library’s site and find out about new e-book and audiobook titles that you can check out from the comfort of your own home. I love downloading audiobooks from my library to distract myself while completing boring chores. Listening to an audiobook with family members can also be a fun way to connect and bond. You can also check out your library site to learn about games and videos available to you and your family.

Remember that although your library’s doors may be closed, your local library is still “open” online, and bursting with fun and educational resources and programs for people of all ages. Reach out and get connected today!

I would like to thank all the librarians who provided information and comments for this article, as well as all librarians, for keeping families connected. Public librarians are true heroes who serve their communities and strive to keep others informed, entertained, and unified. It is impossible to describe all the actions that libraries are taking to support local individuals at this time.

Again, please visit your local library’s website and learn what services and resources are offered in your neighborhood. In addition to offering digital service, my local library is even working around the clock to 3D print face shields for Durham County first responders. What a great example of dedication and innovation!