Children's Librarian Laura Koenig is used to having dozens of young children singing along with her at the Boston Public Library (BPL) every week. But now, she has thousands of children watching her sing and dance from her living room.
Since its closure over two months ago, the Boston Public Library has had to reimagine how it connects with its patrons in the midst of a global pandemic. In Koenig's case, that's meant taking morning story time to Facebook Live.
While Koenig and her colleagues may look a little silly dancing to children's music alone in their homes, the videos have provided Children's Library regulars a sliver of routine in a chaotic world. For others, it's given them remote access to a slew of new resources to share with their children.
But it’s not just kids who are taking advantage of the new way libraries are doing things. Greg Peverill-Conti and Adam Zand — the brains behind the Library Land project that explores and reviews libraries in across the state — have found that libraries are uniquely adapting their services to accomodate social distancing measures.
The Framingham Public Library has been calling seniors in the community who are isolated from their families and keeping them informed on the pandemic.
"Is that a library service in the classical sense? No, but it is as a trusted source of information," said Peverill-Conti. "That's a great use of the library to be doing that and making that connection."
Since people can no longer physically check out books, the Norwood Public Library is posting QR codes on the outside of the building that people can scan on their phones to download audiobooks and ebooks.
"So, you can still go to the library. You can still browse, and you can still check out items," said Peverill-Conti. "And I thought that's a really nice way to kind of keep the physicality of the library in play while still managing social distancing and the like."
At the flagship Central Library in Boston, with whom WGBH News partners, this “new” way of engaging with patrons has brought in new business. Boston Public Library President David Leonard says that there has been a record 210 percent jump in electronic library card sign ups over the last two months.
"20,000 new library patrons have come on board and gotten an electronic library card," Leonard said. "And then when you look at the electronic content, we're seeing a weekly count of checkouts of over 75,000 items."
Leonard knows that while the BPL may not be an "essential" business in the conventional sense, it does provide vital services to those in the community. For some patrons, the library is their source of internet, education, even shelter. To assist patrons who no longer have access to those resources while the library is closed, the BPL recently rolled out their “Books for Boston” program, which delivered more than 1,000 new books to Boston’s underserved citizens in the last month. They’ve also deployed several iPads and WiFi hotspots to homeless shelters in the city.
"If we can help people get through this by giving them an interactive program or providing them an e-book or sometimes still a physical book, then then that hopefully just makes a difference," said Leonard.
Boston Public School teacher Nicole DaSilva can attest to difference the BPL’s digital services have made in her own classroom. DaSilva uses Hoopla, a program from the BPL that allows her students to freely download library eBooks to their devices at home.
"I chose it because it had the widest variety of graphic novels and young adult novels," DaSilva said. "My students were reading a lot of those because they’re English language learners. And that gives them some extra visual support."
As a lifelong patron of the BPL and now a Boston Public School teacher, DaSilva said she wants her students to take advantage of the library even though they can’t physically go inside one right now.
"I grew up in Dorchester. My daughter has been to all our libraries," she said. "So, I knew a lot of the services that I needed for myself and then for the students. I do definitely want them to know that there's this free resource."
Free is the key word, according to Leonard.
"'Free to all,' which is [written] on the front of the McKim building," he said, "[that] only makes sense, only works when all really means all."
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Greg Peverill-Conti's name.