Public Library revamping plans for summer reading program



Libraries are meant to be gathering places, a destination for exploration and fun, so each day the doors remain locked on the Liberty Hill Public Library is a frustrating one for staff and patrons alike.

“We’re very anxious,” said Librarian Angela Palmer. “It’s very hard to sit back and not do anything. It’s just not what libraries do, so it is very difficult. What we want to be is a gathering place for the community, but we’re not going to be able to do that for a while. As that gathering place we have to be overcautious.”

Closed doors and dark shelves don’t mean nothing is happening, though, as Palmer and her staff are doing what they can to make resources available. One of the library’s first responses after temporary closing was to make sure the community knew that wi-fi would be available from the parking lot for those who needed it.

Now they’re trying to make sure everyone can at least make use of the electronic collection online.

“We’re doing virtual cards, so if anybody needs a card right now and they don’t have one, they can send us an e-mail,” Palmer said. “We’re trying to get people cards because all of our electronic stuff is available.”

There’s no speculation about when the library may open its doors again, but Palmer is working on plans to be ready when it is safe to do so.

“What we’re going to do is a staged rollout to reopen,” she said. “We’re probably going to start with like a curbside pick up. When we open I’m almost positive we will have to limit the number of people in the library, maybe change our hours a bit. I’d like to have a time where seniors, or people with compromised health issues could come in earlier.”

There are currently about 10,000 items out, all checked out before orders came to stay home, and just getting those back in and ready for check out again will be a huge task.

“We have to sanitize them and let them sit a couple of days before we can shelve them,” Palmer said.

This unexpected quiet time became the ideal time for some of the not so fun, but necessary annual library tasks.

“We’re doing inventory,” Palmer said. “Once a year we scan all the books and look for problems, things that are missing. We’re doing database clean up, which is not very exciting at all. We’re working mostly from home, but doing some things at the library, having to stagger staff and just trying to keep everybody working.”

With a reopen date up in the air, and everything that has impacted the community over the last two months, Palmer knew it was time to rework this year’s summer reading program. The theme was to be super heroes, which will now shift to next year.

“I’ve been revamping my entire summer reading program, which I had already finished,” Palmer said. “We’re putting together kits to go for summer reading, getting lists of books together, so we’re doing a lot of projects.”

Everything has to be done differently, and set up in a way to be prepared for continued social distancing and limits on gatherings.

“It’s going to be very different this year because it is going to be all virtual,” Palmer said. “It’s not what I want to do, but it’s what we have to do. We will not get to see the kids and how excited they get about the books, take heir pictures to put on the wall or have in-person events and programs.”

One key piece will be online program sign up.

“I’m trying to find an affordable option for patrons of all ages to register for summer reading and keep track of their books and minutes online,” Palmer said. “People won’t have to do it online. We’ll have an option where they can do paper, but we’re trying to keep that to a minimum. We want to be as flexible as possible with all of it.”

The past popularity of kits to go has made them a big part of this summer’s plan now that activities can’t be held at the library.

“The last few years we have done science kits to go, so we’re putting those together, with other activities to go,” Palmer said. “We will also be doing some virtual things like science experiments they can watch, story time, maybe cooking demonstrations, or a book club. That’s all still coming together.”

It will not be all screen time, though, as Palmer knows kids need an escape from computers.

“It’s hard to do virtual things because the poor kids have been stuck on the computers for weeks and months now,” she said. “We hope to plan some things in the community like scavenger hunts, maybe some geocaching or letterboxing. I’m trying to think of things like some challenges we can do to get them outside and moving and away from the screen.”

In addition to health concerns, funding is also an issue with local businesses tightening their belts.

“We depend on donations and the huge generosity of our businesses each year to do summer reading,” she said. “It has become such a big summer reading program. But I don’t feel like I can ask businesses for donations this year. It’s just not the right thing to do.”

As plans are finalized and the program kicks off, more information will be available online through the library’s social media channels and website.