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Pandemic forcing libraries to get creative in programming during typically-busy summer months

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:21 PM CDT
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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - Normally, the summer months mean librarians across eastern Iowa are hard at work trying to keep kids from avoiding the “summer slide.”

But this year, libraries have had to address two problems: students have been out of the classroom much longer than normal, and those libraries that normally open their doors to families have been forced to close due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. And that has forced libraries to try new things to keep kids engaged in learning.

The sound of silence is synonymous with libraries, at least in the way movies and television shows portray them.

At the Solon Public Library, Cassi Elton, a youth services librarian, knows the combination well. But she has never experienced a sound quite like the way it has been in the last four months. The library has been closed since mid-March, and it has led her and her co-workers to get creative to engage families and kids.

“Since that point, we’ve had to sort of re-imagine every part of library service,” Elton said.

It is fair to say that is not exactly ideal as people head out and about for the summer, even trying to go online, to continue a literary classic: storytime. Elton and her team created a digital storytime on YouTube to let families have storytime and their own convenience.

“Summer is usually our really busy time with tons of programming and all sorts of activities and that has not been the case this summer,” Elton said.

It is fair to say they do not expect kids to read hundreds of books. But they still want to keep them engaged, even if it is not in-person.

“Even though it looks very different than it has other years,” Elton said. “We have an app this year where people can track their reading online.”

Tracking reading online has proven a popular trend, and it is something the Coralville Public Library is using, too.

“Our numbers were lower, but we kind of expected that that would happen in a pandemic,” Erika Binegar, a youth services librarian at the Coralville Public Library, said. “And we’re really happy with the people who participated and we hope they had fun, but we really stressed reading.”

With kids out of school a little longer year, it was work librarians like Binegar felt was more important than ever.

“They weren’t in classes, they were doing things online, and that has its own set of challenges, and so we really wanted to stress reading,” Binegar said.

Making summer reading an assignment that libraries aimed for kids to check out.

“We love that we’re still able to connect people with those resources,” Elton said. “Even if it’s in a new and totally different way than we usually do.”

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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