The Oak Park Public Library has introduced a variety of digital and virtual programming to engage patrons while the libraries continue to operate at a limited in-person capacity due to COVID-19.
“The community’s satisfaction with those services has been very, very high for the last several months,” said Oak Park Public Library Executive Director David Seleb.
Some of the virtual programming the library offers includes adult improvisation classes, conversation hours for those learning to speak English and French, and trivia for teens and kids, among many others. River Forest Public Library offers Zoom knitting and cross-stitching hours, book clubs, kids craft times and art classes.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the Oak Park library closed its branches and shifted to a completely digital and virtual model. In June, the library began circulating physical books and magazines again; however, digital materials. continued to be quite popular.
“In the year 2019, the average monthly usage of digital materials was about 18,700 materials per month,” said Seleb. Starting March of 2020, the monthly average rose to over 30,000 digital materials.
“June and July, it was over 36,000 items in each of those months,” said Seleb. “In the months of April and May, it was over 40,000 in each.”
Digital materials include audio books, e-books, e-magazines, music and movies. While the Oak Park library has yet to get the check-out numbers for the month of August, Seleb predicts they will be just as high.
“I expect it to still be high because I think that a lot of patrons who may never have been digital or virtual users before discovered a lot of those materials since March,” said Seleb.
Those patrons, Seleb believes, may have perhaps become long-term digital and virtual users. Even though people can pick up physical materials again or have them dropped off, many feel safer using digital materials, according to Seleb.
“As long as we’re limiting access to the building, I think we’re going to continue to see people needing and wanting to use digital materials at a higher rate than they used to,” said Seleb.
The Oak Park Main Library is open for limited visits Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. reserved for those patrons at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Everyone must wear masks or face coverings. No more than 120 people, including staff, are allowed in the main library at one time and no more than 40 people per floor.
“People are not allowed to reserve any of our reading or study spaces,” said Seleb.
Oak Park Public Library staff have removed most of the chairs, tables and other furniture in the main library to encourage people to limit the amount of time they spend there.
The Oak Park Public Library’s other two branches — Dole and Maze — are still temporarily closed and will remain so until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. There have been no discussions changing the branch library system, according to Seleb.
“We have not had any discussions at all about permanently closing the branches,” he said, responding to concerns expressed by some library users.
Seleb does not expect the library will have any discussions about closing the Dole and Maze branches and said the branches are only closed on a temporary basis.
The Oak Park Public Library intends to reopen the branches when it is safe to resume services and has continued to employ Maze and Dole staff throughout the closure, according to Seleb.
“No one has been laid off or furloughed.”
Some members of Oak Park Public Library staff have returned to work at the main branch to provide in-person services, while others continue to work remotely, facilitating virtual programming and making home deliveries.
The Oak Park community has responded very favorably to the extended digital and virtual services the library has begun providing, according to Seleb. In May and June, the Oak Park Public Library sent out a satisfaction survey. Over 1,000 people responded and the results, he said, were very favorable.
“We’re really happy to see those responses and are just reassured that our response to the pandemic and how we’re providing services is being well received by the community.”