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Libraries book it online during pandemic shutdown

kenai_library_curbside_pickup.jpg
Kenai Community Library
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It’s been a long time since libraries were only about providing reading material, so when they shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t just books that patrons were missing. As the weeks have passed, the Kenai and Soldotna libraries have figured out ways to still offer much of what they did before.

“You know, I was looking at our calendar and I was really surprised and impressed. I was kind of comparing it to where we were a year ago and we have the same number of programs every week as we just normally would, maybe even more,” saidRachel Nash, director of the Soldotna Library.

Programming at the Kenai and Soldotna libraries has moved online. Storytime for kids, Lego building challenges, DIY projects for all ages, art classes, science lessons and more learning experiences are offered on the libraries’ Facebook pages and websites. Creating that content has been a learning experience for librarians.  

“I think the major adjustment has just been getting to learn each of the different technologies we’re using and kind of figuring out what works better for people,” Nash said. “… And, of course, there’s always technical issues — did you push the right button, what does that button do? I think what everybody’s going through right now.”

James Adcox is the youth services coordinator at the Kenai Library. He said it’s been tough to teach or read to a camera, rather than kids in the room, but he’s also thrilled to see the response to the videos and live online events.

“I absolutely miss the kids the classroom. I absolutely miss the classroom setup,” Adcox said. “I do feel the pro, though, is that I feel like we’re reaching more of the community. When we see numbers, sometimes up to over 1,000 views, I’m thinking, whoa, that would never have happened in a small classroom setting, so that’s exciting.”

Neither library has a date for re-opening to the public yet. Not to worry, though, the summer reading program will still happen.

The libraries are using the Beanstack online platform, with an online reading log, activities, programs and prizes. All the same enrichment activities that usually go along with the summer reading program are still going to happen, but they might be online or in take-home form this year. Signup starts May 18. Keep an eye out on the library pages for more information.

The libraries are also still offering summer lunches for kids this year. The program starts June 1, with the Kenai library providing food from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and the Soldotna library doing Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

“For any child 18 and under, this year they’re allowing a pickup opportunity. We just need to know how many kids and how many meals they would need,” Adcox said.

And what about those books? You can still get those, too. The Kenai Library is offering temporary library cards online that allow you to download eBooks, audio books and magazines. Soldotna has downloadable materials, too, and has its wifi on 24-7, if you need a spot to park and download.

Good, old-fashioned, hard-copy books can still be obtained. Both libraries rolled out curb-side book pickup May 4. Patrons can reserve books online or by calling either library — even if you don’t quite know what you want to read.

“And actually if they want to call and ask us for suggestions we would love that too. We call it readers advisory,” said Katja Wolf, library director in Kenai. “Basically, if you say ‘I like a mystery, what do you have?’ We can make recommendations. It is fun. And people just, when they’re in the parking lot, we have a drive-through where the book drop is. When people are in the drive-through, they just give us a call, we check the items out to them and just run them out. It’s pretty smooth.” 

She said they’ve had 10 to 20 patrons a day checking out books. 

You know it’s a fraction of what we usually see, and people use the building to hang out, to do homework, or to just read. Hopefully, we’ll be able to open up soon to start providing these other services again,” Wolf said.

Same in Soldotna. Nash said that online offerings are going well but it’s been nice to have a little bit of in-person interaction with patrons — socially distanced, of course.

“It’s completely contact-free, we’re not even close to 6 feet from people. It’s still fun to wave at them from the door and they wave from their car so it’s good to have a little bit of connection there,” Nash said.

Check out the Kenai Community Library and Soldotna Library on Facebook. Or visit kenai.city/library or soldotna.org/library for more information.

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