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Editor’s Note: The Commonwealth of Virginia’s library systems differ dramatically both in the size of their facilities and the amount of people they serve. The most important services the library offers to its constituents can vary depending on the communities in which they operate. In the next few Public Library Spotlights we will take a look at how different community library systems have responded so far to the pandemic. We will start with a more rural system, the Russell County Public Library.

Managing a small library system in a pandemic…just another thing they didn’t teach us in library school. Like institutions everywhere, Russell County Public Library was forced to make decisions quickly with little data. Our community reacted to the lockdown so responsively that after a few weeks we ceased curbside service—not enough requests to warrant the risks.

We didn’t have to lay off staff. We are so small that even our part-time people often wear two hats. But we did send everyone home. Those who could work from home did; others we encouraged to take online classes to build their skills—but like many of our patrons, they count on the public library for their internet access. Effectively many of our part-time staff were furloughed.

For weeks, I felt like a weathervane, constantly buffeted by the most recent report.

We’ve reopened both branches now; and almost immediately closed a branch while a staffer’s children awaited test results. (Remember that weathervane?) Our small county in severe Southwest Virginia is blessed; our recent surge has pushed us over 70 positive cases. As our case numbers increase and everyone wonders about a return to Phase 2, the open-close-reopen routine is already in our toolkit.

Libraries face many of the same challenges; we count on each other and the Library Development and Networking Division staff [at the Library of Virginia] to stay on top of the fire hose of information. I’m grateful for my colleagues and to work in a profession that makes a positive impact on people and our communities. We bend and flex to serve in any way we can, just like we always have.

-Kelly McBride Delph
Library Director, Russell County Public Library

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