The doors of every library in New Jersey were closed on March 16 — part of the state’s response to COVID-19 — and will remain so until further notice, per an executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy.
But libraries across South Jersey remain open at the click of a mouse thanks to a plethora of online resources.
The Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties’ library systems have all made a shift since closing their doors, promoting everything from e-books and streaming video to craft activities and online storytimes on their websites. In recent years, all three library systems have beefed up their digital offerings, positioning them perfectly to make a smooth transition when the pandemic struck.
“Libraries have definitely been moving forward on the digital front for a number of years,” said Ranjna Das, director of the Burlington County Library System. “We’ve definitely been preparing on the back end for more of a digital presence.”
After the library was closed in mid-March, BCLS restructured its home page to include as many links to online resources as possible.
“The online resources were (what) we focused on,” Das said. “We took a look at what made sense in the community at this difficult time.”
BCLS’s online offerings include Tumblebooks, e-books designed for kids where children can have books read to them. Burlington County has also partnered with Creativebug, an online platform providing thousands of arts and crafts videos.
Virtual storytimes have become a backbone for the libraries during the pandemic. Burlington, Camden and Gloucester all offer digital storytimes for kids on different mediums. Burlington pre-recorded about 30 storytime videos prior to closing on YouTube and social media, while Camden and Gloucester County are offering live-streamed storytimes on their social media accounts.
Posted by Camden County Library System on Wednesday, April 1, 2020
“We have (storytimes) scheduled through April 10,” said Linda Devlin, director of the Camden County Library System. “We have several available each week at different times of day. Depending on what works for your family, we have some in the morning, some in the late afternoon, some in the evening.”
The Gloucester County Library System has taken a similar approach with online storytimes. Last week, the library hosted children’s storytime events on its Facebook and Instagram pages Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning.
Join Ms. Heather (and her kids!) for some online storytime fun!
Posted by Gloucester County Library on Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Gloucester County has also promoted activities kids can do while stuck at home. Nancy Polhamus, the public information officer for GCLS, said Gloucester County is putting out regular newsletters with various children’s activities to do at home. Some of the activities included in a newsletter last week were an outdoor scavenger hunt, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) weather science activity and a printable coloring page. Residents can subscribe to the GCLS’ newsletter by visiting www.gcls.org.
All three library systems have had to think outside the box when it comes to issuing new library cards. Gloucester County has set up a way for residents to apply for a card from home.
“Ordinarily, someone signing up for a library card would have to come in person with their driver’s license or other ID showing their name and address,” Polhamus said in an email. “We are getting emails and contacts through our online chat function from people who have never had a card. Since they can’t come in person right now, those who live in our service area can be issued a temporary card number that allows them to access all of our online and downloadable services for three months.”
In addition, Gloucester County is extending library card expirations during the closure for an additional three months. Similarly, Burlington County is issuing bar codes to any new cardholders during the closure and has extended all expiring cardholders’ memberships through June 1.
Camden County has opened its digital resources to all residents, cardholders and non-cardholders. Residents who are not members of the Camden County system can fill out a form at www.camdencountylibrary.org to get a free, one-month library card for digital access. Access is also included for Camden County residents whose hometown library is not part of the Camden County system.
“The overall strategy would be to continue to reach as many residents as we possibly can, even though our buildings are closed,” Devlin said. “We did expand the ability to use those resources in Camden County, regardless of what town you live in.”
All three library systems have staff working during regular business hours for users who need assistance.
Don't forget, if you need help finding information, GCLS librarians are still here to help! Reach out online or NOW via phone, during our normal Reference hours!
“Our reference librarians are providing service via email, chat and text during the hours that we would normally be open,” Polhamus said, “In addition to handling the membership issues I just described, we are able to answer research questions, general information requests and help instruct people who need help getting accounts set up for the digital services.”
Das said Burlington County has a chat service platform on its website where cardholders can ask staff questions about anything throughout the day.
“If you have a question about e-books, downloads or anything about your account, staff are available,” Das said.
Staff aren’t just helping with library-related questions either, they want residents to remain safe. As a result, cardholders at Burlington, Camden and Gloucester County libraries who are currently borrowing books or other materials are asked to keep them until the buildings reopen. All three library systems have closed their book drop-off boxes. In addition, the libraries are providing resources online about COVID-19 to help residents learn more about it.
“We’re in the business of helping people sort through all of that information that’s out there,” Devlin said. “Part of a librarian’s job is to help people sort through what are the reputable news sources and how to sort out what is fake news and what is real news.”
For more information, visit www.bcls.lib.nj.us for Burlington County libraries, www.camdencountylibrary.org for Camden County libraries and www.gcls.org for Gloucester County libraries.