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Many changes await patrons at library

T-R PHOTOS BY LANA BRADSTREAM — Youth Services Manager Joa LaVille shows off new and increasingly popular features at the Marshalltown Public Library.

As the Marshalltown Public Library slowly expands their services and hours, people are surprised by what they see and experience when they walk through the doors as many changes have been implemented since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Right now, the library is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Fridays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The plan is to expand hours more on Sept. 2 and open seven days per week.

Youth Services Manager Joa LaVille said a new feature many patrons have been commenting on is the light wall display. She described it as a different and larger Lite Brite, and it is affixed to a center wall separating the children’s area from the checkout desk.

“It’s like living light art that people of all ages like,” she said, as she moved her hands over the buttons and various lights came on at her touch.

In a section of the children’s area of the library, there were numerous Playaways, which LaVille said is like a literary MP3 player.

Library Director Sarah Rosenblum demonstrates how to use the self-check out stand at the Marshalltown Public Library. Hours of preparation went into the feature before it was ready to go.

“They are relatively new, not since COVID, but people are still learning about them,” she said. “This is one of our more popular collections now.”

Because of the popularity of the Playaways, the newest addition to the library are Wonder Books. LaVille said they are basically Playaways but with pictures.

“These are a good way to model some expressive reading aloud,” she said. “If a parent is not confident in their ability to read out loud in an engaging way, this gives some ideas.”

Another technology feature library patrons are noting and taking huge advantage of are three self checkout systems, which Library Director Sarah Rosenblum said required hours of preparation from numerous employees.

Now, people do not have to wait at the desk to check out their books. They can take their chosen pieces of literature or perhaps movies to a checkout station.

The interactive light wall display catches eyes and gives people something to play with at the library.

“But staff are still happy to help you,” she said. “It’s like having your favorite checker at the grocery store. This is a way to offer contactless service.”

Inside the cover of each book, patrons will find a white tag, which can be scanned at the station.

“There’s actually a little antenna in there,” Rosenblum said. “We had to apply that to every item in the library. We have over 100,000 items.”

She said employees had to read the data on each barcode and then encode the tag with the corresponding data.

Some old technology also made a return to the Marshalltown Public Library as the fax machine service was brought back for patrons.

The self-check out.

The steps taken to reach people during a pandemic extend beyond new technology. The summer reading program will be held again and will start online on May 24. LaVille said finishing touches are being added.

“There will be a reading challenge for pre-readers and beginning readers,” she said. “A challenge for chapter book and teen readers and then an adult one. Families can all participate together and earn prizes.”

Some prizes include swimming passes or pizza coupons.

Marshalltown residents might notice more people gathered on the lawn of the library on Wednesday mornings. LaVille said they have not been able to have story time, but will offer that popular weekly event on the lawn starting in June.

“In the past, we would have anywhere from 60 to 90 people for story time and that’s obviously not practical with COVID,” she said.

As Marshalltown Public Library Director Sarah Rosenblum talks about the steps the facility has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, patrons relax and read at the tables. As the library gradually extends its services and hours, more and more people are returning.

In conjunction with the June Health Family Fair and the August Marshalltown Ridiculous Days, the library staff is planning two large Saturday events. Plus, they will partner with the Veterans Memorial Coliseum Summer Blast Day Camp to host students weekly in the morning. The Summer Blast Day Camp begins June 9.

Another future feature Marshalltown residents can expect to see outside of the walls of the facility is a mobile library. Rosenblum said they want to take the library to the community and if that means showing up at the Iowa Veterans Home, the farmers market or going to a ribbon cutting, then that is what they will do.

“I don’t know what the new normal is going to be,” Rosenblum said. “My crystal ball is not working. People ask me, maybe because I’m a librarian, ‘Sarah, what’s going to happen next?’ I don’t know.”

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Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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