In library work, it comes in many forms: the single parent stretched for time and resources bringing their children to select books because they know the value of knowledge; the out-of-work older employee working to learn computer skills; the volunteer finding new purpose at the library following the death of their spouse.
Sometimes, a smile, simple as it is, can motivate us to keep going during difficult times. For our weary staff, inspiration came unexpectedly during the last week of an especially onerous year.
2020 had barely begun when closing libraries became inevitable with the spread of COVID-19. Just a short while after, the operating budget was reduced significantly, which made it necessary to lay off staff. Operating hours and materials delivery were cut as less staff made it impossible to keep the regular schedule.
Awkward at first, wearing masks, installing Plexiglas screens, intensified cleanliness, and keeping distant from one another became second nature to staff. We adapted with curbside service using the handicap doors for pick up, while our meeting rooms became quarantine spaces for materials, each table with a slip noting when items would be safe to circulate. We learned to ‘hear’ each other through the fabric over our noses and mouths. We provided virtual programs and comfort calls to our homebound patrons. We gave each other wide spaces to pass in working areas. We emptied our drops fewer times per day clad in masks, shields, goggles and gloves. And when we ran out of Clorox wipes, we made our own.
In-person programs ceased until further notice. Book club members found this especially distressing and initially rebelled against proposed online discussions. With a little time and a lot of patience, they came around as we facilitated with the virtual platform, GoToMeeting. Though it will never replace an in-person program, they all agreed it was so much better to be able to keep their schedule for the year and meet on a regular basis. Speakers for adult programs were easier to book and the programs were surprisingly well-attended.
Virtual story times became creative while the library was closed entirely to the public. Children’s Room staff worked from home and didn’t miss a program. Using GoPro cameras, Facebook Live, and help from family, they turned their living rooms into sets, complete with lighting. Story times continued with reading, songs, and special visitors. The segment ‘Who’s at my window?’ reminded little ones of the importance of maintaining social distance while the hand-washing song (piggyback to “Frere Jacques”) became especially popular:
Tops and bottoms,
Tops and bottoms
Rub them altogether
Rub them altogether
Now they’re clean
Now they’re clean
Makers clubs for older children continued, with children registering for bagged supplies ready for curbside pickup. Participants then followed along with the program on Facebook Live.
It is an understatement to say that library staff adapted to the changes in 2020. Adaptability is one of our stronger attributes. We’ve dealt with reductions in state and local funding, NARCAN training, FOIA requests, mentally unstable patrons, and having to postpone long-awaited projects like a new building to better serve our communities.
But the hardships of 2020 were unmatched and they are not over. The stress of working in a library during a global pandemic continues to wear thin. We all worry about each other as the virus continues to infect our staff, family, and friends. Even with the vaccine rollout, we do not know when it will be safe to resume some kind of normal life, however that unfolds. The uncertainty, the stress of picking up more responsibilities with a reduced staff, the danger in getting away for a break: all of these factors take a toll on even the most optimistic employees.
And yet, we are somehow motivated to get up each day, go to work at the library, and serve our patrons in these extraordinary times while we look toward a better future.
An unlikely source of inspiration arrived via a payment during the last week of December. A patron sent a check to cover her fine and so much more.
At the bottom of her bill, she wrote:
To the people of my favorite library,
Please accept the check in payment of my fines and add the rest to your bank account.
Our community is so much richer for your being here. I’ve been coming to the library for more than forty years. I can tell you that it did not matter what money was in my pocket when I entered the library with my children and husband, we were always richer when we walked out the door. Your books contributed to many happy memories for us when our children were growing up. A love of books, stories is not dependent on your material wealth. That is, if you have a public library, all have the opportunity to learn, grow, laugh, cry.
In this time of COVID, the fact that the library is still available to us, in whatever way is safest, has been such a help to so many. I have two brothers whose health is compromised but they are still able to keep company with books!
Thank you for all of you provide to our community. I value each and every one of you. Stay safe, we need you!
After reading it, I was floored and also weepy. I am always touched when anyone says a kind word about the library, especially our great staff. But her words went above and beyond. My own memories of my husband and I taking our children, now 33 and 29, to visit the library came rushing to the surface and immediately I felt so fortunate to remember those happy times. I have always believed a public library in the community is a wonderful treasure chest that we all get to share. The timing of her letter was impeccable.
Something good at the end of a long, hard year.