New Jersey libraries are closed indefinitely by government order, but the staff at Bernardsville Public Library is working hard to stay in touch with library patrons and continue to serve the community. “Once the library was closed,” said Executive Director Alexandria Arnold, “we pitched the idea to our Board to stay open virtually, and the members agreed to give the plan a trial run. It has now been extended at least to the end of April.”
With a reduced staff, telephone calls to the Library are forwarded to homes where staff members are sheltering in place. Open daily except Sunday, the staff member on duty has access to Polaris, the library circulation system, so that he or she can answer questions about library card numbers and passwords to help callers access all the online resources that the library has to offer. They also help those who are having difficulty downloading e-books or magazines. “Our callers are so grateful to reach a live person,” said Arnold, “It gives them a sense of normalcy in the unprecedented environment that we are experiencing.”
The library has also newly established its own YouTube channel. Youth Services staff members have filmed a number of virtual story times as well as programs called “DIY/Crafts.” The latter focus on a hands-on activity, sometimes a craft, gardening, or cooking, and often include a related story. Programs have included planting an egg carton herb garden, making easy ice cream, pancake art, and sock chia pets. Also new is the opportunity for parents looking for a special way to celebrate their child’s birthday while in isolation at home. They pick a favorite topic and the librarian reads the book, dedicating it to the child by first name. One parent wrote in, “Oh my!!! This is amazing and I appreciate it so much. It has literally brought tears to my eyes and it's such an innovative idea for making birthdays special at this really hard time. Her birthday is tomorrow and we will surprise her with this. THANK YOU SO MUCH!”
A member of the Technical Services staff has released five instructional screencasts-- short tutorials which also appear on YouTube--that explain in clear, simple language how to access and use online services such as the Cloud Library and Hoopla for downloable books and movies. More are in development, including one on how to connect with people remotely and ways to play games.
Adult yoga classes have continued, and online arrangements are underway to offer meditation classes which used to meet in the library, online book discussions, and a “meet the author” event.
“Downloadable eBooks and audiobooks are our most popular service at the moment,” said Director Arnold, “and downloadable magazine circulation could double from the previous 2020 high. Use of Lynda.com, with its thousands of video tutorials, is also up significantly. Our Novelist database exceeded normal monthly usage during first nine days of April!” The library will re-allocate funds temporarily for these downloadable services to meet high demand.
Social media efforts have also been increased on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Other outreach efforts have included daily email blasts highlighting the library’s online services; a survey to ask what services people want most for both children and adults; status updates (everyone’s worried about overdue fines!); and, most recently, a request to be a witness to history, requesting photographs, essays and videos from local residents to document the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a learning process,” said Arnold, “And we’ve had to learn quickly, but we are pleased with the feedback we are getting from the community.”