From internet access to tutoring for students to contactless pickup of a good summer read, the public library remains an important community resource, even during a pandemic.
To help families without their own internet connections, the San Antonio Public Library is extending its Wi-Fi connections so that they can be accessed in library parking lots.
“Wi-Fi projects outside of the library on purpose to amplify it from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” said the assistant director of SAPL, Dalel McNeil. “Someone can come by just sitting in their car.”
The Houston Public Library and the Harris County Public Library have adopted the same routine for Wi-Fi accessibility
Laurie Covington, deputy assistant director of customer experience from the Houston Public Library, told Reform Austin in a written statement that many of their services have become available through social media.
“HPL’s programs have transitioned to online with daily virtual programs such as story times, craft and STEM videos, book chats, and book clubs all taking place through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Zoom,” said Covington. “We are adding more live Zoom programming, including author talks and classes on researching family history.”
Covington explained that the HPL has strong relationships with two of the area school districts — the Houston and Alief Independent School Districts.
“HPL has issued all students and staff of both of these districts Learning Link Library Cards. The cards give all students and staff in the districts access to online resources, and the students can also check out materials through HPL TO GO Curbside Service,” said Covington. “Usage of these cards was high in the spring, and we expect them to continue to be high as virtual learning resumes in the fall.”
Harris County Public library has also turned to social media in efforts to encourage and remind library patrons that the library is still available.
John Schaffer, also known as “Curbside Larry,” went public on Twitter with a creative video advertising the library’s available services.
“When we opened back up for curbside service, we wanted to get the word out to as many people as we could,” said Schaffer. “A lot of people knew we were open for curbside service, but some people didn’t, and we wanted to hit people who may have forgotten,they had a library card in their wallet.”
McNeil at SAPL mentioned that they have avoided using the term ‘curbside’ to deter the public from associating it with needing a car to pick materials up from the library.
“Curbside kinda sounded like you needed a car, but some people might come by foot or bus. We wanted to prevent people from thinking they need to have a car,” said McNeil. “Somebody can just walk up to the library and speak with a library employee.”
McNeil explained that the library is an important part of the community and a needed resource especially now.
“The library needs to be available for everyone, if you have a laptop or cellphone at home, that’s awesome, if you don’t, we want you to know that you can still use the library,” said McNeil.
McNeil mentioned that there are virtual tutoring services available through the library, which has also attempted to maintain a strong connection with younger community members through Instagram.
“For teens, everything we are doing is on Instagram, because we found that on other platforms, they’re just not interested,” said McNeil. “So for adults, we are using Zoom. It’s not a simple matter, and we are trying to tailor events that are specific and helpful.”
Schaffer echoed McNeil’s sentiments about the public library being a staple in the community.
“Libraries for a long time were considered the ‘third destination.’ You know people have their home, they have their work, and they have libraries,” said Schaffer. “It’s one of the last places where people from all groups, all ages, all socioeconomics can come together.”
McNeil said that the San Antonio Public Library, like other libraries, is paying attention to the school districts’ actions and will shift plans accordingly to meet users’ needs.
“Mostly we have 4-5 computers at a time, because people have to be 6 feet apart,” said McNeil. “There’s no way to fill in for every student that needs a device.”
“For example, we would keep our computer appointments during the day time, but if schools re-open in-person classes, then look at moving the reservations to after-school hours,” said McNeil. “But we are mostly waiting for schools to make a decision.”
Schaffer wants students and other members of the community to sign up for a library card online and to continue to use the public library’s resources.