The loss – and rediscovery – of our local library during the state’s shutdown last spring due to COVID-19 taught us that we don’t know what we have until it’s gone. However, with donor support, the Traverse Area District Library plans to be more ambitious, creative, and substantial in service.
In June, when the Traverse Area District Library reopened after months of closure, executive director Michelle Howard saw something interesting.
People stumbled out of the building with loads of books. Bulging pockets and swaying stacks.
“I think they were so scared that we would close again and stock up,” she says. “If they knew they had enough books, they would be fine.”
It’s not that the Traverse area doesn’t have a share of library buffs. In fact, there were over 40,000 items floating around in the library during the shutdown – an enormous number compared to other libraries of this size. Rather, the ward began to see the library in a different light – as an essential service and as something that profoundly enriches our quality of life.
With the pandemic outbreak, staff turned to offer access, justice and support to a troubled community. They waived fines because people couldn’t return books. They started processing online library cards. “It has been a constant mess examining who we are as a library and watching the staff rise to the challenge,” says Howard.
One of these challenges has been equity issues – for example, access to WiFi for those who need it for online learning and job search. The library looked for grants to get laptops and WiFi hotspots to help families and individuals who do not have and need online access, especially for distance learning and homeschool.
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The library also built a student success portal as a support system for all learning plan families. It includes links to resources on homeschooling, discipline, online tutorials (such as using the Google Classroom), parenting, standards for state testing, technology, events, activities, and more.
On the interactive learning side, they’ve put together a sturdy library of things – STEM kits, puppets, an art projector, telescopes, a turntable (old-school delight!), And loads of musical instruments are available to check out and get into learning too At home or just integrated for fun. The travel acoustic guitar with steel strings rarely sits on the shelf for long, says Howard, as do the dulcimer and the banjo. Amplifiers, acoustic guitars, a finger piano, and some really nice pro-level synthesizer gear complete the mix.
Heather Brady, marketing and communications manager for libraries, says the pandemic has shown where the library can grow – especially in the public relations arena. With smaller communities still undersupplied to get library materials, there is an opportunity to dream big and raise money for an old school solution – a book mobile – with state-of-the-art implementation. A bookmobile could serve as a flexible learning center, providing space for the library’s 3D printer, STEM devices and projects, and Wi-Fi hotspots that serve as a mobile oasis for those who need access.
At the end of the day, “It’s not just books,” says Brady. “The library is exactly the definition of the gift that is given over and over again.”