Despite pandemic, Jervis bustles to meet community needs

ROME — With 2021 including five months of “service by appointment only,” and only seven months of unrestricted services, Jervis Public Library, 613 N. Washington St., managed to weather the storm — and navigate the challenges of the COVID pandemic — while still providing a vast array of services.

In her Director’s Annual Report, Executive Director Lisa A. Matte said the library was able to adjust following a dismal 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the institution to curtail many of its popular programs and activities and pivot to providing other services amid staffing and funding concerns.

“The library offered limited programming and invested in extensive planning to provide a somewhat stable list of offerings without the need to change procedures week-to-week as we were forced to do in 2020,” Matte described of last year’s business. “Staffing was one of the two biggest challenges the library faced in 2021, the other being funding.”

As the library strove for consistency in procedures to benefit staff and the public, it lost three full-time staff members to retirement and spent the year compensating for the challenges of remaining minimally staffed due to COVID exposures, COVID school and daycare closures, and COVID cases, the executive director said.

“What we faced and continue to face as a library is a reflection of what is happening in our community to the folks we serve,” Matte said. “We spent the year assisting the public with locating and making vaccination and testing appointments; completing online transactions for DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), unemployment, and Social Security; submitting job applications and electronic VA (Veterans Administration) forms; and even creating and uploading videos to contribute to virtual funeral services. All aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy and Bloom’s Taxonomy exist at Jervis thanks to a dedicated staff of people who will get to the bottom of what a person needs whether it’s snowshoes that work for all sizes, a printout of an insurance card to register a vehicle, a book for a class, or a hotspot for a virtual class.”

In addition to those services are the more traditional assistance for libraries, including helping patrons find physical books, DVDs and music, as well as Ebooks and audiobooks, collections that people knowingly became more dependent upon during the pandemic over the last two years.

To support the increased reliance on digital downloads, Jervis earmarked additional money for digital content in 2021 and assisted in developing the collection, said Matte. “As a result of efforts over the past six months, the average wait time was reduced by more than two weeks for digital books and digital audiobooks,” she said. “That wait time continues to decline in early 2022 and has now likely reached its new average of a 30-day waiting time versus 52 days when the effort began in July, 2021.”

In 2021, an average of 440 unique Jervis patrons borrowed 2,337 digital books, audiobooks and magazines per month. Physical books are still popular. The busiest day of 2021 was the day of the library’s annual book sale on Aug. 4. The second busiest was the day of the in-library job fair for Indium on Nov. 17.

“This highlights the library’s ability to creatively meet community needs, a role stressed in our mission statement and our strategic plan,” said Matte. “The library sold 122 tickets to Enchanted Forest Water Safari and 44 EZ Passes in 2021, reinforcing the commitment Jervis has to giving the community what it wants. In 2021, understandably, folks wanted to travel and experience normal summer life in Central New York. They also enjoyed the winter outdoors and inside by borrowing snowshoes and board games nearly 600 times, while also enjoying the newly created puzzle exchange.”

Jervis Public Library continues to be the community’s location for accessing online services while also providing access to services on its Facebook social media page and website.

Wifi hotspots were borrowed 499 times for use at patrons’ homes and there were more than 6,000 computer sessions despite the limitation of appointment-only access from January through May. Once appointments were no longer required as of June 1, computer sessions spiked with a high of more than 1,000 sessions in November.

The library website was visited more than 32,000 times, and there were more than 10,000 interactions with patrons on the library’s Facebook page.

“The library staff continued to get information to people where they were when their access to the physical library was limited,” Matte said. Despite those limitations, there were more than 35,000 physical visits inside the library last year and nearly 8,000 appointments for curbside pick-up of library materials. Those visiting the library chose to use self-checkout for nearly 7,700 items to limit their proximity to others. Options are a mainstay of Jervis’ customer service philosophy; the multiple ways we continue to provide service during a pandemic demonstrates that this is not lip service.”

A broad range of people continue to use the library, not simply borrowing the more than 161,000 items that went out last year. They are picking up Teen Swag Boxes and nearly 1,000 Make-and-Take craft kits for children and adults, attending online and in-person programs for all ages, and visiting in the community at more than three dozen outreach events where more than 2,000 free Books were distributed, including a food giveaway at St. Paul’s Church, Halloween on the Griffo Green, and a health fair, among other community events.

“We finished strong with more hours of operation per week than the library offered prior to the pandemic so people could spread out their visits,” Matte said. “We are grateful for the support of our co-workers, who became even more like family (for better or worse) in the past year; the Board of Trustees; the city, the county, and local school district taxpayers; the SBA and local banks administering PPP loans; and the numerous individuals, businesses, and foundations who have provided strong support to the library in its weakened financial position. Without the money to pay employees and to purchase resources, the quality of the staff is irrelevant.”

She said, “I say it every year, but in the past two years, it has been at an all-time high. Without the staff, none of the services would have been possible and even with a dwindling staff, providing these services has remained a priority. We are also grateful to the patrons who continued to seek out our services and place their trust in us to handle the most delicate of situations and their confidential information and extended to us the grace we strove to extend to them. We are proud to carry out a time-honored tradition of valuing patrons’ confidentiality and access to resources, and we stand firm in that position regardless of the conditions.”

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