While Berks County libraries have closed their buildings to the public, library staff continue to connect with patrons virtually.

“Isolation is lonely at best, daunting and full of despair at worst. By staying in touch and reminding our patrons that we're all in this together, we hope to help raise spirits,” said Lorraine Storms of Exeter Community Library.

Exeter Library staff are trying to remain as active online as possible, mostly through Facebook as the library has more than 3,100 followers and Facebook seems to be the best way to reach out to many of its regular patrons.

“We try to keep a two-way conversation open with our patrons, sometimes by asking normal questions like, What are you reading now? or What authors bring you comfort in the hardest of times?” said Storms.

Other times, they are providing links to virtual field trips and tours.

“It's important to stay engaged.”

Berks County Public Libraries

Emily Orischak at Berks County Public Libraries said that the Berks libraries (along with all public libraries across the state of Pennsylvania), have been instructed to close to the public until April 6. Library events are cancelled or postponed during this time while all loan periods and holds will be extended until April 20. Public Wi-Fi will continue to be made available, accessible from library parking lots.

While library doors may be closed, the digital collection remains available to library cardholders 24/7, she said.

“Interestingly enough, we are seeing a good amount of Internet traffic to our website as patrons look to virtually connect with the library and check for updates,” said Orischak. “Since libraries closed on March 14, we’ve had close to 22,000 page views across the website. This is down from our normal count which would hover right around 33,000 for the same time period, but that included traffic from our in-library computers. Our data right now is reflecting patrons connecting exclusively from home.”

As information seems to change on a daily basis, Orischak said that the library system is making sure that all relevant information is updated on its Coronavirus information page, https://www.berkslibraries.org/coronavirus-updates.

“We post updates regarding library closures, loan periods, and a compilation of free resources made available by library partners and other organizations,” she said. “Libraries are information providers, so we’re making sure the public is receiving the most up-to-date information about what is available to them.”

Additionally, Alison Trautmann, Outreach Services Coordinator, is looking to begin virtual storytimes on the Berks County Public Libraries StoryRider Facebook page as early as this week.

“Several libraries are already livestreaming on social media, but Alison is looking to fill in the gaps for other library staff who may not be as comfortable with social media or have the means to connect,” said Orischak.

Virtual Storytimes

Fleetwood Area Public Library is one of those Berks libraries that has been implementing its own virtual storytimes.

“By seeing their storytime reader on the screen we hope to bring some stability and security back to our preschool patron's lives,” said Carin Mileshosky, Library Director at Fleetwood Area Public Library.

For storytime families library staff had already organized an e-mail system with them prior to closing. Youth Services Librarian, Stacy Laucks is able to contact them each week with a video link to her virtual storytime and activities for parents to try at home.

On social media Fleetwood Library staff post daily challenges that are linked to in-person programs the library would normally hold each day.

“For example on Mondays we would normally have our Build It program. Every Monday now we post a Building Challenge so patrons can still participate at home,” she said.

And the response from patrons has been positive with many thanks and notes of appreciation.

“Though our physical space may be closed, Fleetwood Area Public Library is still here ready to serve the community in a variety of different ways,” said Mileshosky. “In times of challenge and major decisions, I believe that it is important to go back to your values for guidance. After reviewing our mission statement, I realized that Driving Fleetwood Forward means action and looking forward. It is important to be flexible enough to change to what the community needs at the time.”

Fleetwood Library has been reaching out to patrons with a link from the main webpage directing them to free resources available.

“A lot of companies have stepped up and offered resources to the public free of charge during this pandemic,” said Mileshosky. “It is our job as a library to inform our patrons about all the wonderful things they can check out right from their home. Librarians are always in the business of information, now we just have to come up with a unique way of getting that to our community.”

The library also uses social media and its E-Newsletter to communicate other information ranging from free resources, helpful information from the government, information from the local schools, and important information about the 2020 Census.

“We also have a library cart outside the building that we have filled with books and craft kits for people to take for free. These are used books from the Friends of the Fleetwood Library Book Carts that we normally have for sale up in the library,” said Mileshosky.

Boyertown Community Library keeps patrons informed

At Boyertown Community Library, staff members are using Facebook to answer questions and let patrons know about its e-resources. Staff are also sharing links to authors, databases and educational resources. Mass emails are being sent out weekly to keep patrons aware of updates in services and helpful resources and information as well, said Sairra Cloen, assistant to the director, Boyertown Community Library.

“Keeping our patrons informed about what is happening at the library, offering alternatives to books and telling them about new resources lets them know we are still here for them. It shows them that we are still working for them and that they are not alone,” said Cloen.

Boyertown Community Library has two digital platforms that patrons can use to “check-out” a variety of items. The Libby app offers e-books, e-audiobooks and videos that patrons can “borrow”. RB Digital offers a wide variety of e-audiobooks to check out with no hold or waiting period. Both apps offer materials to adults, teens and children, said Cloen.

Two other digital resources offered are Lynda.com and CreativeBug. Lynda.com offers courses that teach business, creative, and educational skills. CreativeBug is a database with quality how-to videos demonstrating a wide variety of artistic and creative skills and projects. 

“We miss you all! We look forward to seeing you in the library again soon,” said Cloen. “We are busy planning fun program opportunities to share with you when we reopen. During this time at home stay safe, and continue reading, exploring, and learning!”

Exeter Community Library offers online connections

Exeter Community Library Children's Librarian Miss Laura Carson and Librarian Nancy Russo have been reading books either prerecorded or through Facebook Live on a regular basis.

“Miss Laura even asked her viewers to participate with emoticons as she read. We're also sharing all the storytimes we can find from celebrities, who do a fabulous job voicing storybook characters,” said Storms. “Miss Laura also did a virtual family dance party in lieu of her monthly dance party to keep young kids moving and thinking.”

Social gatherings usually held at libraries to connect people in the community are also now being held virtually.

“At the moment, in lieu of movie night, we're also contemplating having watch parties for chosen movies, where everyone watches the same movie at the same time and comments online as the movie progresses or offering knitting or coloring parties to mimic our regular knitting and coloring programs,” said Storms.

“The idea is to keep people engaged in the same types of activities they would have been doing before the pandemic,” she continued. “It's important to stay active in both mind and body.”

Via Facebook, Exeter library has been sharing links to local yoga studios offering free online yoga sessions and lots of ideas for things to do outside in your own backyard - everything from birding and crafts to drawing tutorials and writing prompts.

“We're sharing every resource we can think of to keep people engaged with the outside world,” said Storms.

The library has been sharing virtual tours of national parks, links to digital escape rooms, virtual tours of museums, access to free online Ivy League courses, and live cams in zoos, aquariums, and preserves.

“Our message to the community is to remember you're not alone. We're all in this together,” said Storms. “Adhere to social distancing and quarantine requests, take all the recommended precautions seriously, and help us kick this virus quickly so we can get back to seeing our amazing patrons in person again.”

Exeter library offers special thanks to all the workers on the front line right now.

“From those in retail who continue to provide groceries and meet our everyday needs to the doctors and nurses working day and night to save lives, from the bottom out our hearts, thank you,” said Storms.

Whether it’s through social media, newsletters, or the berkslibraries.org website, libraries are making sure they remain available to those who need them, said Orischak.

And while libraries are presently scheduled to remain closed through April 6, they are still providing Wi-Fi access from their locations. Patrons will need to connect from outside the library, but the libraries are making sure that Internet access is available to those who need it, she said.

For information about electronic resources and library updates regarding COVID-19, visit www.berkslibraries.org or reach out to your local library through email or social media.

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