Calarco: Libraries have stepped up in crisis

Rob Calarco, Suffolk County Presiding Officer
Posted 4/30/20

Over the past two months, I have attempted to highlight the many institutions and people who are providing essential services during the COVID-19 crisis. Nurses, grocery store clerks, teachers, …

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Calarco: Libraries have stepped up in crisis


Over the past two months, I have attempted to highlight the many institutions and people who are providing essential services during the COVID-19 crisis. Nurses, grocery store clerks, teachers, 911 operators – they have been our everyday heroes. Everyday average Americans are stepping up to do above-average work. They are constantly adapting, accepting this “new” normal and coming up with new ways to do their jobs in a challenging environment.

One of the unsung public institutions performing heroic feats is our public libraries. Even though every library in Suffolk County has closed its physical doors, digitally they have opened more than ever before. Longwood Library in Middle Island proudly pronounces “Physically Closed But Digitally Open” in a banner across their homepage. Public libraries are meeting the challenge of how to provide knowledge to their patrons with and without the internet. Earlier this month, the American Library Association conducted a nationwide survey on how libraries are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Even though 98 percent of the nearly 2,500 libraries who responded are closed, nearly every single one reported an expansion of services. The expansion included more access to e-books and audiobooks, online virtual programming, and collaborating with local service providers to help the most vulnerable. Nearly all of them have expanded their online renewal policies, waived late fees, and are assisting with general library card access.

The director of the Patchogue-Medford Library, Danielle Paisley, reported to my office that they have issued more than 250 temporary library cards to patrons since the libraries had to close their doors. Attendance at the Patchogue-Medford Library online programs is actually higher than before the virus hit. Perhaps it is because people have more flexible schedules than before, or perhaps they prefer the online format. Whatever the reason, library programs and materials are still available to all of us at no charge.

Virtual programming is taking on many forms. Children’s storytime has moved online, with their favorite librarians reading books and singing songs via Zoom or other online platforms. Craft guilds are still meeting, so crochet and knitting clubs can still join to share their skills. Weekly art history lectures are more popular than ever, allowing patrons to experience Renaissance Italy or the New York art scene of the 1950s, even if they can no longer travel. And now more than ever, business resources classes are in high demand, with patrons looking to expand their skill set and update their resumes.

I mentioned last week that www.livebrary.com is a remarkable online resource for various platforms and programs that are available to patrons. There is a wealth of resources for information and entertainment. Some of the best ones include:

• Libby, by Overdrive, is an app used to download e-books and audiobooks for children and adults of all ages.

• Kanopy is an online streaming service for movies and documentaries.

• Hoopla is a multimedia platform that gives access to movies, e-books, audiobooks, comic/graphic novels, and music albums.

• Flipster gives access to hundreds of weekly and monthly magazines.

• Udemy helps patrons improve skills across business and technology platforms.

• Rosetta Stone helps patrons learn new language skills using speech and visual technologies.

While many resources are online, our libraries have not forgotten those who are most vulnerable. Everyday staff members are reaching out via telephone to seniors who have attended library programs in the past.

These weekly wellness checks help keep residents connected to others in the community and can alert social or medical services if there are issues. One-on-one counseling and social workers are also available, and they have been reaching out via phone or email to those who have used services in the past. They are working hard to make sure those who are digitally dis- connected can still maintain a human connection.

And finally, Suffolk County libraries really came through when they were most needed. Last month each library lent their 3D printers to a “print farm” at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Yaphank. Through a remarkable effort, the printers were set up in a matter of days and have been churning out hundreds of valuable personal protective equipment for our front-line workers. Every single library in Suffolk County is participating in the effort, either in Yaphank or at facilities closer to their districts. Our libraries are literally saving lives.


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