Libraries Stepping Up During COVID
The El Dorado County Library system in California has a history of working for better public health. The library system has worked with the local Health and Human Services for several years, and routinely has a public health nurse and health advocate coming to the library. Funds from tobacco lawsuit settlements enabled the library to have an early childhood specialist. Through these partnerships, they regularly offer programs on health services and parenting classes, in addition to their more traditional programming (children and teen events, arts and crafts, writers’ groups, etc.).
So when the pandemic began to shut things down, library employees immediately began looking at ways they could continue to support their community under the pressure of a developing health crisis. Director of Library Services Carolyn Brooks noted that the library closed its doors on March 17, 2020, but that didn’t mean dust began to gather. “By April, we had 3D printing labs up and running, make 3D face shields for healthcare workers,” she said.
Staff began to look at what else they could do to support the community. It was obvious that physical health was a concern, but the pandemic could have long-term mental health consequences as well. Realizing that people confined to their homes for long periods of time would appreciate having access to library materials, they developed a partnership with local grocery stores where patrons could pick up their library holds at the same time they bought groceries.
In May, libraries were able to offer essential computer services. “People needed help applying for unemployment and looking for jobs,” Brooks noted. As the summer went on, the libraries opened at 50% capacity, and people picking up holds could do so curbside.
A Wide Array of Community Services
By late summer, the pandemic was increasing the strain on all manner of social safety nets. Brooks and her team set up a monthly drive-through diaper and food delivery service in conjunction with Placer Food Bank and a number of other partners, including Health and Human Services and First 5 El Dorado.
Then the conundrum of having a national election during a pandemic arose. Recognizing that voting might need to be approached in a different, safer way, the library branches set up permanent ballot boxes and a 5-day vote-in-person center.
During all this, the libraries kept current with public safety recommendations so they could continue providing these kinds of services. “When there are stay-at-home orders, that doesn’t mean the needs of the community stop,” said Brooks. “Our protocols are far above and beyond what’s required, and there’s not been a single case of transmission [in the libraries].”
Even with a vaccine on the horizon, the work is far from over. Brooks noted that more than 40% of the county population is senior citizens, many of whom don’t have the technology or tech skills required to register for the vaccine. The library partnered with a senior day center to set up a dedicated phone line for seniors to call for help getting their names on the vaccine rosters.
What’s next? That will depend on what happens with the pandemic and the vaccine rollout, and what needs to continue to arise in the community. Along with offering these new services, the libraries also rolled much of their usual in-person programming online, doing Zoom story hours, teen mental health clubs, writer’s groups, book clubs, social skills groups, and more. Regardless of the challenges, the El Dorado libraries are finding ways to meet and overcome them.