Before COVID, branches of the Burlington County Library System (BCLS) were filled with hobbyists, students and readers.
After the pandemic caused the libraries to close their doors, BCLS buildings are more empty, but its website has stepped in to fill the space. The system put many of its resources online, giving even more patrons, teachers, students and parents access to education, internet access and community events.
“We’re definitely more of a community center than ever before,” said Ranjna Das, BCLS’ library director.
The library branches have continued events over Zoom, including workshops in financial literacy and women’s studies. They have added more eBooks to collections, offered WiFi accessible from the parking lot and began a pilot program that allows students to sign up for library cards during their classes in school.
“Even though our doors were closed, we were still really doing a great job of providing as much as we could for anyone who could access it,” Das said.
BCLS subscribed to Creativebug, an online database of arts and crafts how-tos that library users can watch to learn new skills at home.
“It provides online video tutorials for anything, like knitting or crocheting to learning how to use the laser cutter or mixing sound,” Das added.
Prior to COVID, libraries served as a place for groups to spend time together, something that isn’t possible with social distancing and safety guidelines, Das acknowledged. In the near future, the libraries plan to expand their Zoom events to include more community-based meetings, like live storytimes.
“There’s a whole group of folks who usually come to the library to attend our programs,” Das explained. “What we’re doing right now is looking for inventive ways to offer things that sometimes are best served on site.”
Zoom events hosted by BCLS are open to all Burlington County residents, making it easy for anyone to participate in classes or workshops previously held at one branch. This year, BCLS has hosted recurring classes about holistic wellness, filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and community events like book clubs.
As students and teachers turned to remote learning, the library system’s educational resources were used to enhance learning from home. BCLS offers a homework center and a ‘classroom assistant’ that allows teachers to request and use library resources in their lessons.
“We always worried about not every child being able to access a Chromebook, so we thought that this would be a place we would see them,” Das said of the libraries. “It didn’t turn out that way. But where we did notice some activity is our schools started reaching out to us.”
BCLS started piloting a new program where teachers and all of their students would receive a library card, allowing them access to every resource the libraries had to offer, like textbooks, movies and research databases.
Once the libraries’ doors reopened in mid-September, they served as co-working spots for people still working from home.
“We have a really good group of folks who come to the library and they use our Wi Fi access,” Das noted. “They’re telecommuting, so they’re not in an office environment. It’s good to get out into the library to be around other people, even though you might be working on your laptop.”
For cardholders who don’t want to enter the library, BCLS provides curbside pickup and dropoff for books at some locations, something Das said the libraries plan to continue after COVID.
“We’re definitely doing more and more,” she added. “We’re still here for books and we offer great online resources, and we’re trying to get programming up to speed.”