GLEN ROCK, NJ - With families across New Jersey ordered to stay home during the coronavirus crisis, the Glen Rock Public Library has launched several online programs and activities to keep its patrons informed, educated and entertained.

All libraries in New Jersey are shut indefinitely, as per a March 21 order by Gov. Phil Murphy, who said, “I know libraries are a critical part of the fabric of our communities, but we must slow the spread of COVID-19.”

In the wake of the closures, a growing number of libraries are trying to find new ways to connect with the communities they serve as best they can right now. For most, that means turning to the internet and running some programs virtually.

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Over the past few weeks, Glen Rock Library Director Ellen O’Keefe said she and her staff have been experimenting with a few kinds of online offerings.

The library has long provided access for cardholders to digital collections featuring e-books, e-magazines, videos and music, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Click here for more information about e-collections.

But, during such uncertain times, O’Keefe said it was important to stay engaged with the community and provide some sense of continuity however they could.

In addition to ramping up its digital collections and free e-resources, O’Keefe said they knew they had to get some other online offerings out there because “programming is our bread and butter” and one of their roles, as a library, is “to engage with the public.”

“You don’t want people to forget about you and the fact that your library is here for you,” said O’Keefe. “My staff enjoys working with the public and the public enjoys us.”

Now, they have a virtual children’s story time (available on its Facebook page) and plans to soon have videos of performers who have previously entertained at the library. They are also in the process of creating a Zoom account to host book club meetings and are looking into how to run online family game nights and trivia nights, O’Keefe said.

“We just started with story times last week,” she said. “We’ve had very positive feedback. And we’ve seen a rise in digital circulation.”

Between February and March, borrowing on Hoopla, the library’s digital platform, has increased from 218 circulations to 408, she said. Within Glen Rock, 69 percent of the town’s 12,045 residents have library cards, according to the library.

For now, O’Keefe said, “We’re just going to try to be as creative as we can” when it comes to how they serve the public.

Staffers are also using the library’s Facebook page and website to provide updates on programs, share interesting links and interact. 

While they can reach many families via online interactions, O’Keefe said there’s still a digital divide that prevents them from connecting with every patron.

“We miss our patrons. We’re used to seeing them every day,” she said. Since many of her staffers live in Glen Rock, O’Keefe said they’ve seen library regulars out at local shops picking up groceries and other essential items and patrons have wound up filling them in on what books they’ve read lately.

“Yes, online is great in terms of visual. But it’s not the same as being in person,” O’Keefe said.

For the duration of the closure, no late fines will be charged and all books will be automatically renewed. And, people who don’t have library cards can apply for one online, which will allow them to have access to digital content. Click here to sign up for a library card.

Once the COVID-19 crisis wanes, O’Keefe said the library will “probably have a soft reopening” once its approved to do so.

“As much as we’d love to make a big splash and have a big event, no one really knows what guidelines will be in place in terms of social distancing at that point. Before this, we never would have thought twice about that. It would have been ‘the more, the merrier,’ but we all may have to do social distancing longer than we want to.”