Despite having to shut their doors, local libraries are still committed to being community cornerstones by offering ingenious ways to beat the COVID-19 blues.
"From the moment things started happening in European countries we realized we needed to be prepared," says Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) director Josie Parker. "We started talking about how we would offer things remotely and keep people engaged."
AADL efforts have resulted in a number of innovative online offerings that are both entertaining and educational. At the forefront is the Bummer Game. It's a spin on the library's perennially popular Summer Game, where players earn online badges and points that they can exchange for library merchandise.
"It's like using the internet to solve riddles and puzzles," Parker says. "The points will apply to Summer Game 2020 and you don't need to be exposed to other people who are playing."
Last week saw the start of AADL.TV, a series of streamed YouTube videos that staffers are creating from their homes.
Some current video topics include how to play lead guitar, how to make a wind wand, Harry Potter trivia, and how to make a crayon stained glass suncatcher. Parker says storytime videos seem to have especially struck a chord with isolated families.
"Kids get to see the same friendly staff faces right on their screens at home," she says.
AADL has also launched a call-in service for reference questions, available at (734) 327-4200 weekdays from noon to 6 p.m. It's an offering that Parker believes will benefit many older people who don't have access to the internet or technology.
"Anyone can call in and reach a staff member who is working from home, but has access to library resources," Parker says.
Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) staff are also working to continue engaging with patrons during the COVID-19 outbreak. YDL community relations coordinator Sam Killian says staff take their role in the community very seriously.
"We understand that we are an important resource," he says. "A lot of people rely on us for the internet, computers, books, and entertainment, so we're bustling behind the scenes to deliver."
One of YDL's current initiatives is the Spring Challenge, a mini-version of the library's Summer Challenge. New challenge activities are posted daily, ranging from secret code writing to measuring large trees. It's free to sign up and participants can collect their prizes when YDL branches reopen.
"It's the same interface as the Summer Challenge, but with things that people can do during this time," says Killian. "It's a way that people can stay active and engaged while respecting the isolation and quarantine that people need."
One of Killian's favorite Summer Challenge activities is the Thanking a Community Helper Challenge. The challenge asks participants to show gratitude to people like doctors and grocery store employees who are still working despite COVID-19 concerns. People can take part in various ways such as recording video messages or putting signs in their windows.
"We want these workers to be recognized and are hoping to create a video montage once we get a good batch of submissions," Killian says.
Part of YDL's goal is to highlight not just what the library is doing, but other happenings in the community and on social media. YDL's website and Facebook page point to a range of resources. For example, there is a call for people to post pictures of how they're spending time with their dogs, links to free virtual storytimes and concert series, and information on a teddy bear scavenger hunt.
"We want to highlight what others are offering, because despite the social distance we are all navigating this time together," Killian says.
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Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of AADL and YDL.