Williamsburg Regional Library takes action to help the community during Natl. Library Appreciation Week

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As National Library Appreciation Week is underway, the Williamsburg Regional Library continues to step up and support the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Williamsburg Regional Library’s facilities remain closed due to the coronavirus, staff and librarians are finding creative ways to not only provide educational and recreational resources, but also help health care workers.

“The library has always been here to support the community,” said Barry Trott, special projects and technical services director for the Williamsburg Regional Library. “So the things we are doing now are just really an extension of many things we’ve always done.”

Trott said when the library had to shut its doors, staff quickly had to pivot their work to find ways to reach people virtually. This meant providing programming through video platforms such as Zoom and Facebook Live.

He said figuring out how to do programming was the most difficult because it meant learning an entirely new set of online tools and how to create programs that would benefit from online access.

“It was certainly challenging to think about all the things we were doing in the analogue world and then how do we expand that because we can’t reach people physically,” Trott said. “But it’s a great opportunity for us to learn how to bring these new ideas into our operations once the library can open again.”

Trott said in the past when the library holds a program, such as a concert, it’s a one-time event. But now that staff have learned how to use online video platforms, people can access it from anywhere at any time.

The library also has also continued expanding its digital collections by adding $12,000 worth of ebooks and audio books to its collection, according to a news release. These are in addition to new downloadable music and magazines.

Trott said since the library facilities closed on March 13, there has been a 42 percent increase in ebook use and a 72 percent increase in video streaming. He added that the library wants people to take advantage of all it has to offer, especially during a time when many people are trapped in their homes and looking for things to do.

“Historically, public libraries are busiest during times of national crisis or economic hardship and easy access to library resources is essential,” Betsy Fowler, the library’s director, said in a news release.

The library has started to issue temporary digital library cards for people who may have misplaced their card or who have never previously applied for one.

It has also reinstated its “Ask a Librarian” program through an online medium. In the past, the program sets up times when individuals could come and discuss subjects like classes and research with the librarian. Now people can do so through an online messaging system that allows them to chat with a librarian virtually.

Recently the library has also developed a program that provides 18 hotspot locations throughout the area so people can have access to WiFi if they don’t have it at home. Trott said the local school system has been very appreciative of this service because data shows about 10 to 15 percent of students don’t have access to reliable internet.

The library is also helping students by continuously compiling a list of free student resources with links to various publications and educational organizations that are providing free content.

It has also started making face shields with its 3D printers that will be donated to local health care workers and organizations.

“So the librarians got together and thought about how we can meet a need with the resources we have,” Trott said. “You wouldn’t normally think of a library as a place making protective face shields but we’re just doing what we can to support the community.”

Even before the coronavirus changed library operations, Trott said staff was constantly trying to find ways to reach out to the community outside of the library walls.

“I think there’s no question that as we come out of the coronavirus situation, in general society will be looking at things and evaluating what changes can be made,” Trott said. “So one thing I’m sure we will continue to look at is this idea of digital resources.”

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