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Marshalltown Public Library learning from pandemic

t-r file photo Library staff work on bagging books for curbside pickup.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity for the Marshalltown Public Library to find new ways to reach readers.

The library is closed to the public and has been doing things differently since March. This has caused its popular outreach and youth programs to be put on hold.

While the book remains closed on in-person services, the library is getting books in the hands of readers young and old.

One of the most popular services is curbside pickup. By contacting the library you can have librarians put together a bag of books and pick them up outside.

Joa LaVille, youth services director, believes curbside pickup may be here to stay.

“We’ve kind of had this ‘Aha’ moment that this is something we’re going to keep,” LaVille said. “There’s a lot of reasons that it’s conducive to people’s lives. Curbside addresses barriers for people who work during the day and need to pick up books quickly.”

The library has a variety of online services, including access to eBooks, audiobooks, films and television. One of the most popular online services called Hoopla allows library card holders to ‘borrow,’ stream and download content. There is no limit to how many people can access a certain piece of content at a time. The public library increased the borrow limits to accommodate for the many people spending extra time at home.

LaVille said the library is trying to get more people to use its online services, such as the digital catalogue, but not everyone is comfortable navigating the website and services or doing their reading digitally. She said some of the online portals were ‘clunky’ when they were launched. The library is making efforts to help people use these services.

“It’s a lot easier than if they only tried it in the past. I would try it again,” she said. “Once you get signed up it’s just super intuitive. Anybody who needs help on how to access that kind of stuff, they just have to have access to the internet and a device to use the app. They can come into our parking lot to download and we can talk them through it.”

There are still some holdouts from the new technology. LaVille said she was recently one of them, until she needed access to a book and the best option was an audiobook.

“I’m now a very big fan of digital audio downloads,” she said.

Some of the most avid readers still miss spending time browsing, flipping through the new arrivals and pining over the right selection. Since this isn’t possible, the library has tried some virtual browsing. Recently they did a virtual browsing of their graphic novel collection.

One event the library was unable to host this year was the Friends of the Library Book Sale. During the book sale the library sells some of the books taken out of its circulation for $1 apiece.

Instead of selling these books, the library has expanded its free book shelf. LaVille noticed many library users who don’t normally borrow books have enjoyed browsing the free book shelf. Since the library has closed the book shelf is placed outside on mild-weather days.

“Research shows the number of books in the home has a correlation to reading levels. It’s a really powerful impact to have,” she said. “Friends of the Library, they would really be happy to know they’re still making a difference. Being out this dollar is not nearly as important as our mission of getting books into the house of someone building themself as a reader.”

Another traditional service the library had to adjust was field trips. Sixth graders from Lenihan Intermediate School had been visiting the library regularly doing the school year. This year the library is holding monthly virtual meetings with the students. Conversation Circle for the English as a second language community and high school book club have also become virtual.

“With everything kids are missing and all things falling through the cracks, you can’t take months off reading on your literacy path,” LaVille said. “Plus i think it’s therapeutic. It can be a coping mechanism whether you’re reading to escape or find fun things to do when stuck at home.”

Visit the Marshalltown Public Library online at marshalltownlibrary.org

Contact Joe Fisher at 641-753-6611 or jfisher@timesrepublican.com

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