Column Description: Using a format similar to that of a diary entry, this column will discuss thoughts and musing related to working in a small public library.
It’s been a year. Actually, it’s been over a year since the world was told to shut down. Libraries closed and locked their doors. Employees went into quarantine. Everyone learned how to zoom. We also learned a new language -- or rather a new set of words -- like ‘variants’ and ‘droplets’ and ‘curbside’ and ‘contactless.’ ‘distancing,’ ‘mask up’ and ‘herd immunity.’
After months, staff members returned to the building, working in teams and on staggered schedules so as not to fill up space or overcrowd each other. At this point in time, some libraries have welcomed patrons back into the building for browsing. Many, however, still ask them to continue to be patient and to make appointments for consultations, reader’s advisory or computer use. Even fewer have invited patrons back for in-person programs.
While most of our books and some services can be replicated electronically, there is no electronic substitute for in-person programming. That is to say, although author visits, cooking classes, and children’s crafts can be hosted on Zoom, they are simply not the same. Perhaps that’s why patrons in a class I teach called “Stitches and Stories” have been attending in-person since the fall.
Since September, on every 2nd Monday of the month, members of the class have wanted to attend in-person, despite needing to follow protocols of social distancing and mask-wearing. In fact, “Stitches and Stories” has been going strong for over two years now. In this class, participants learn how to crochet and knit, share ideas and projects and listen to a story read aloud. It’s a class that combines instruction in the fiber arts with literacy and community building.
Despite the winter weather, rain and snow, and covid restrictions, patrons, most of whom are in their 80’s, have insisted on keeping the class going as a means of keeping themselves going. They have come to class dutifully with their crochet and knitting projects in tow because, as they’ve told me, “the class has helped them to feel normal.” In a time when the world has been made to feel abnormal, when the simplest of gestures like a handshake or a hug have been deemed dangerous, the chance to see friends and stay connected has become a most valued opportunity.
Class members have all been very lucky, there is no doubt about that. Not only have members remained healthy, but as spring begins, they have all thankfully been fully vaccinated. And as the community continues to get vaccinated, there is a sense of relief that pervades the group. Even those who would not attend earlier in the pandemic, are feeling more determined than ever to keep the continuity of connection going strong. It is perhaps one of the many lessons of this pandemic that human connection is ultimately a sustaining force. We’ve learned that we need to be together and to help each other no matter the difficulties.
Another lesson that we might take into consideration as libraries continue to evolve and try to adapt is that we must position ourselves, moving forward, to be part of the solution. Simply put, we need to be flexible, open to change, and willing to listen to our patrons. Downloading an audiobook or accessing the latest e-book on an iPad can only take a patron so far. But showing a patron that there is a place where someone cares about their wellness, both mental and physical, gives them a sense of community. In a time when we have lost so many and so much, let’s lead the way by providing patrons with a place of community both for their sake as well as our own.
Ida Weiss has been an Adult Fiction librarian at the Gold Coast Public Library in Glen Head, NY. for three years. But her overall experience working in libraries goes back decades. She first started working at her college library as an undergraduate student at Cornell University in the 1980’s and have subsequently worked in business and academic libraries throughout the years, as well.