In these uncertain times, we want our community to know the Oak Park Public Library is here for them. Despite building closures, we are striving to connect, collaborate, and have a positive effect.
Now more than ever, we’re providing the virtual services and digital content people want and need. We’re also still doing typical work to keep the library running, like keeping buildings safe and providing excellent customer service. As one staff member says, “The alternative is not connecting at all, which isn’t an option for us.”
As we celebrate National Library Week (April 19-25), here are a few great ways our library staff are working through the crisis to keep transforming lives and building community (See an expanded list at oppl.org).
1. Virtual mental health & social services support – Since last fall, people without adequate health care coverage had been receiving free, confidential mental health assessments at the Main Library, thanks to a partnership with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. In-person appointments are on hold, but our library’s director of social services and public safety, Robert Simmons, is still working with Rush to schedule free appointments via telehealth and virtual platforms.
2. Expanded digital library access, with daily remote customer service – Oak Parkers who didn’t have library cards before the stay-at-home order went into effect are not out of luck. We’re now able to create new library accounts for residents who apply online. This means more Oak Parkers are getting anywhere, anytime access to massive amounts of growing digital content, including ebooks, digital audiobooks, movies, TV shows, and music, plus online resources to research and learn just about anything.
“To me, each resident connecting and being able to use the digital library is very meaningful and fulfilling,” says Kathleen Spale, manager of access services. “I truly love still being able to work remotely to serve the community of Oak Park and appreciate so much that I am able to ensure that so many residents are still able to enjoy our digital library.”
3. Interactive storytimes, book groups, and conversation – For kids, our Early Childhood Community Engagement Specialists are doing interactive, virtual storytimes over Zoom for daycare centers they’d normally be visiting in person. And they’re putting out engaging videos every weekday at 10 a.m. for all families.
For adults, we’re continuing ongoing programs like writing and Spanish and French conversation groups over Zoom, and launching new ones. Alexandra Skinner, manager of adult services says, “It’s about providing connection and normalcy during this disconnected time.”
Organizations all over the world are being challenged during this pandemic to rethink everything, from emergency preparedness plans to cleaning practices to human resources policies and programs that support employee mental health. And the library is no exception.
We are working to continue virtual programs for kids, teens, and adults through the summer. And we are working on a phased plan to reopen library buildings safely, all while being responsive to local, state, and national guidelines as they change. Find the latest at oppl.org.
David J. Seleb is executive director of the Oak Park Public Library.