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Libraries continue valuable services

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HJ - Standard Lied Public Library Clarinda

Since March, the libraries in Page County have collaborated, coming up with ways to keep patrons in the community engaged with the libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Dec. 15 Page County Board of Supervisors meeting, Carrie Falk, Shenandoah Public Library Director, shared an annual summary of the library’s efforts.

Joining Falk were library director Andrew Hoppman, Clarinda Lied Library; Amber Duncan, Essex Lied Library and Barb McCollum, Coin Library.

Falk begins by saying overall numbers were down after libraries in the county had to close to the public for close to six weeks and then offering curbside pick-up only for another month after reopening. She said with the buildings open again, foot traffic remains lower than average.

“So really, on all of our other statistics from visitors to checkouts and other things, we were down about 20%,” said Falk. “We took a big hit on library programs.”

Falk said the libraries were down about 35% in attendance and the number of programs they were able to offer. However, there was a 6% increase in database usage and a 1.6% increase in computer and wi-fi access.

“Not a whole lot of good to say for the numbers,” said Falk. “However, I have to say I’ve been really impressed with the way libraries have stepped up and adapted to the changes and what we have all done to try and engage with our communities in a safe and socially distanced way.”

The four libraries in the county have provided several off-site services to the public during the pandemic.

Curbside pickup is something all four libraries offered, with the Clarinda library installing locked boxes for after hour pickups. There have been story walks through downtown and Clarinda added a permanent story walk to the towns walking trail. The Shenandoah library offered a riddle walk in the park and grab and go craft bags.

“It has certainly helped us get much more creative this year,” said Falk.

Page County Supervisor Chuck Morris asked the directors to share how the pandemic has changed operations moving forward in a positive way.

“COVID was a horrible and continues to be a horrible situation,” said Morris. “However, there have been silver linings for all of us.”

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Falk said the curbside pickup program has been popular. She anticipates everyone’s lives becoming busier, and with continued precautions, the curbside program will continue to be used frequently.

“I like pulling books for other people,” said Falk. “It’s been a great way to introduce new authors and new books to people that may not have picked up on their own otherwise. That has been the silver lining. A lot of really good books have been checked out that might not have been otherwise.”

Falk said the Shenandoah community continued to support the library this year despite the pandemic, with over 112 volunteers with an average of 17 hours per volunteer.

Earlier this year, Falk was named to the Iowa Commission of Libraries, the governing board for the State Library of Iowa, and was appointed the Commissions’ Vice-Chair.

The Essex Lied Library used the shutdown as an opportunity to paint, clean carpets and install automatic doors. Duncan said the library will continue to provide curbside pickup and has seen an increase in wifi usage.

McCollum said the Coin Library was started with monetary memorials and has been able to make improvements through grants. She said a donation recently received from a foundation will go towards children’s programs.

The Clarinda Lied Library has implemented many of the same changes as the other libraries in the county.

“This summer, we were able to continue our outdoor concert series that’s sponsored by our Library Foundation,” said Hoppman.

Hoppman said the attendance for the concerts was good and everyone followed safety measures.

The Clarinda Library also installed two free little libraries through a Bank Iowa grant and offered an outdoor learn to play pickleball program in July. The little free libraries provide free book exchanges and are located in the city park and outside the library.

Hoppman said the area he would consider to be the silver lining through the pandemic was taking the library’s traditional services and offering them through live streaming on Facebook or over Zoom. One of those services was the summer reading program in which over 80,000 minutes were logged for reading.

“Traditionally, you always had to get your paper form and come to the library,” said Hoppman. “Now, you can submit your minutes on an app on your phone. So those changes, I think, will continue to be with us as we combine the digital with the analog or traditional services and resources that the library has always offered.”

The libraries’ annual report also included a funding request for an additional $5,500 for 2022. No action will be taken until the county receives valuation figures.

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