Libraries have always been adaptable. Any institution that survives and thrives for 300 years has a knack for changing with the times. In America in the 1700s, libraries were just small collections of books accessible only to white male subscribers. Today, public libraries offer multimedia collections, classes, gathering spaces, exhibits, performing arts productions, technology and computer access, and countless resources for students, families, businesses, nonprofits, new Americans, job seekers, and anyone seeking knowledge, empowerment, and broader horizons.
Recently, libraries have had to make major adaptations quickly in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19. Dayton Metro Library is no exception.
“Under normal circumstances, a community’s needs evolve,” said Tim Kambitsch, DML Executive Director. “In these unprecedented times, it’s become even more important for the Library to serve the community in new, creative ways. It’s a challenge - but it’s also an opportunity.”
When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a statewide shutdown in March to help stop the spread of COVID-19, DML staff quickly adjusted to serving our patrons in ways. The website and digital collection were pushed front and center with 24/7 Branch Library branding, making it easier to access the online tools and digital materials that were still available, even while the Libraries themselves were closed. Registration for eCards was promoted, so that new digital users could borrow ebooks, audiobooks, movies and music. More than 4,600 eCards were created from March through September.
Students in the middle of their school year had to make a sudden switch to at-home learning, while parents and educators worked hard to support them. DML organized our online learning tools into an interactive chart. The Homework Help Guide makes it easy for students, parents and educators to choose the right tool, based on school subject and age group. These online resources, especially HelpNow from BrainFuse, which offers live, one-on-one tutoring, were promoted through schools, email blasts and the print magazine, Your Dayton Metro Library.
As soon as staff were able, they began offering curbside pickup of reserved materials, so that patrons could borrow the physical materials they wanted. To facilitate this service, the IT Department updated the DML app with a new curbside feature, making it faster and easier for people to communicate with staff and make arrangements to pick up their materials.
Once patrons could return to Library buildings, DML’s IT team was integral in implementing a socially-distanced version of computer assistance. Patrons using Library computers can click an on-screen Help button and interact via chat with a staff member who is located elsewhere in the building. The staff member can even access the patron’s computer monitor to offer direct guidance.
Because in-person programs have not been possible, DML has quickly shifted to offering quality online programs, including the signature summer reading program.
“When our Libraries closed in March, plans for the Summer Challenge changed, but our goal to keep children engaged in learning was even more important,” said Mandie Burns, Director of Youth Services. “We broadened our ideas about what learning looks like in this environment. Reading is as important as ever, but we also realized that kids could experience wonderful online performances, participate in virtual summer camps, or complete enrichment activities that could all be counted toward Summer Challenge goals.”
The long-planned, immersive Career Adventures Camp for middle-schoolers pivoted to an online version as well, with partners quickly getting on board to produce virtual field trips so students could explore in-demand jobs up close. A virtual reading and learning camp for a younger audience was created in partnership with ThinkTV/PBS Kids, taking children virtually to local attractions to learn about animals, music, bugs and other fun topics.
As limits to in-person gatherings extend into the fall, DML continues to offer virtual programming, including weekly STEM-based activities that families can do at home, and an after-school arts program that gives middle and high school students the opportunity to learn from professional teaching artists.
“The health and safety restrictions we’re dealing with have been a motivating force for some creative solutions,” said Diane Farrell, DML’s Director of External Relations and Development.
DML has partnered with the Children’s Hunger Alliance to provide free meal distribution at all DML locations. Facilitated by dedicated volunteers along with Library staff, more than 155,540 shelf-stable meals were distributed at Dayton Metro Libraries between June and August. Free meal distribution continues this fall.
“Food distribution is not normally a priority service for libraries, but it fits within the tenets of our strategic plan,” said Burns. “We are aligning Library initiatives to community needs, leveraging partnerships focused on community-wide goals, increasing equity, and enhancing quality of life.”
Similarly, at a time when social services such as mental health and addiction counseling are in demand, accessing them has been more difficult.
“Many people don’t have reliable internet access or a phone plan that allows them to take advantage of tele-health options, and they may lack the privacy they need to have meaningful conversations,” said Jodi Long, Associate Director of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS).
DML has responded by dedicating a room at the Main Library, equipped with telephone connectivity and technology, for clients to privately and safely connect with service providers. Library staff ensure that the space and equipment are sanitized and the computer is re-booted between appointments to comply with patient confidentiality.
For students who find learning at home a challenge due to distractions or limited tech access, the Library can be a more conducive environment. Two branches, with more in the works, have designated Student Spaces where students and families who are engaged in online learning find quiet, tech-connected areas and all the resources of the Library readily at-hand. The successful Rock Your Homework program, in which trained AmeriCorps service members work individually with students on schoolwork and assignments, has resumed by appointment as well.
And, to support teachers who are working through challenges they never anticipated, DML launched the lighthearted Show Your Face campaign. Educators are invited to send in photos of their smiling faces, and DML will create buttons they can wear whenever they are masked.
“We know that some young students are intimidated by seeing masked faces,” said Farrell. “The Show Your Face campaign is just a small, fun way we are supporting educators at this time.”
Dayton Metro Library has seen a lot in its 130+ year history. As always, it continues to be on the front lines, looking for challenges that can be turned into opportunities to serve our community in new, exciting ways.