AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) – The coronavirus pandemic has forced libraries in the Shenandoah Valley to balance service with public safety and health. It’s been an eye-opening experience that’s led to some out-of-the-box thinking.
“I think how we used to use our space and how people expected to use our space is going to be fundamentally changed because of the pandemic,” said Sarah Skrobis , director of the Staunton Library.
Libraries are hubs for community connection, as well as access to resources and programming.
Then COVID-19 happened.
“It’s turned everything on its head,” Skrobis said.
“We had to start thinking about how can we provide access in more flexible ways, on people’s terms, how we could do it safely,” Augusta County Library Director Jennifer Brown said.
It’s led to curbside pickup, grab-and-go programming, and programs through Zoom and YouTube.
“By bringing some of these things virtually we can meet people on their terms when they’re ready,” Brown said.
Libraries also responded with outdoor story times.
“They were a fantastic success,” Skrobis said. “We had over 1,000 people attend 31 different story times.”
In Staunton, digital resource use like e-books and audiobooks has skyrocketed: up 40% in two years according to Skrobis.
COVID-19 has also drawn attention to the digital divide: “It really shined a light on the lack of opportunity for some community members to access broadband, to access technology, to get online and do all of those important things many of us take for granted,” Skrobis said.
Brown says Wi-Fi went up astronomically when libraries closed in the county.
“People would sit in the parking lot on their phones or on their devices,” Brown said. “They didn’t have internet at home.”
So, Augusta County started circulating hot spots, and continues to grow its collection.
“Whether it’s for work, whether it’s for telehealth, whether it’s for school, it doesn’t matter,” Brown said. “People need access.”
“I just want to get to a point where everyone in our community again feels comfortable being able to enter the building, that they feel safe doing so,” Skrobis said. “And that we can continue to think outside the box like this to get out to where our community is, to present services and resources in new more convenient ways for them. Take down any barriers to access that exist.”
Staffing shortages due to COVID-19 meant Staunton had to roll back its service to curbside only for a couple of weeks, but the library building is once again open to the public.
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