Liberty Hill Public Library’s summer program adjusts to unique circumstances



Facing a summer stuck in the most unique of circumstances, the Liberty Hill Public Library is adjusting to COVID-19 precautions to remain committed to bringing the community its annual Summer Reading Program.

“We’re still having it (Summer Reading Program), that’s the most important thing,” said Librarian Angela Palmer. “The program may look different, it may feel different, it may not be as engaging, but we are still doing it. Our theme is ‘Reconnecting’ this summer, so we’re trying to help people reconnect with the library, reconnect with the community and reconnect with their family.”

While the program traditionally begins mid-May, this year, it’s getting off to slightly later start, beginning June 8 and running to the end of July.

“This year will be completely different,” said Palmer. “This year, for the first time, we have online sign-ups. We will have a way for people to call us so we can sign up for them and log their minutes. We’ll also have a paper component for some people who may not have the internet.”

The library is using a program called READsquared to make it easy and convenient for adults and children at home to log their minutes of reading. Palmer admits that while it may be a convenient way of doing things, she will miss some of the fun that comes with physical sign-ups.

“People can go sign up – children, adults, and teens – for the program, and they can log their books and minutes online,” said Palmer. “Before, we’ve always had sign-ups where people would come in. We used to draw names and put kids on teams like when we did Harry Potter, and everyone got assigned to a house. It was exciting, and the kids loved it.”

With more time at home over the last few weeks, Palmer feels that kids might be overloaded on the amount of time they are on their phones, tablets, computers or TVs, and the library is finding ways to combat that with education.

“Kids have so much screen time, and over the last couple of years, we’ve given out science pick-up kits,” she said. “They’re bags you can take home and do science activities. This year we don’t have any performers or anything, so we’re giving out over 14,000 kits.”

Donations and sponsorships from the community help create the number of kits the library plans to provide. With such a large number of bags planned, the small library staff is working on overdrive to get things prepared as fast as possible.

“We have boxes everywhere,” said Palmer. “The community has been very generous. We’ve gotten some sponsorships, and people have given us things off of our Amazon wish list. We’ll be giving out 300 kits a day for five to six days a week. We have been working on this for a month, and we still aren’t there, but we’ll get there.”

The most significant adjustment to the Summer Reading Program aside from the new online aspect is that the library is closed for entry because of safety concerns and social distancing practices.

The staff will still offer curbside service and have been doing so for the past three weeks. The plan for handing out kits and book pickups will be curbside until they can completely reopen.

“I don’t know when we can reopen, so we’re doing curbside service,” said Palmer. “People can call or go online, and we’ll bring what you need out to your car. If you go online and place holds, we’ll call people when they’re ready. Older people who may not want to do holds can call us.”

For children, the library is making sure that it has all of the popular titles they enjoy and has taken a look at the school’s recommended reading list to help flesh their selection with multiple copies.

“We don’t have suggested reading, but the schools do so we try to make sure we have those books,” said Palmer. “We make sure to have the perennial favorites. For the juvenile set, we have Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants. For the little kids, we have the Piggy and Elephant, the Pigeon books, and Fancy Nancy.”

As kids reach specific goals in their reading, traditionally, Palmer and her staff would take a photo of each kid and create a poster for them to take home. Despite changes, the tradition will continue differently. Parents will be able to send their kids’ photos when they reach their goals and get their posters made.

Palmer believes the most crucial thing that participating in the program does for kids is continuing to educate them through the summer and keep them learning as they get closer to returning to school.

“When kids have summer break, they lose learning from the year before. Teachers know this, and it’s called the summer slide,” she said. “They don’t have to read tons of books, but if they do, then they retain more of what they learned and are better prepared for the fall. The book subject doesn’t matter either; they still retain their math and science.”

For Palmer, this year’s program holds significantly more weight because kids were robbed of part of their school year by COVID-19.

“This year it’s so much more meaningful because parents have so much to do and might be overwhelmed, and we’re going to try and keep the kids engaged for them,” she said. “If kids go back to school in the fall, they won’t be as far behind as they could be. We want to try and help as much as we can.”