At this time of year I’m usually excited about looking back on the year’s accomplishments and challenges. This year, I’d rather just not think about it and skip right to 2021. But that would be doing us an injustice, because this year was one for the record books and shouldn’t be overlooked. So here are my reflections on 2020 in terms of what we at Jeff Davis Parish Library learned, the challenges we faced, and the successes we celebrated.
At the beginning of the year, our libraries were hosting some amazing programs, especially for adults. Jennings hosted “The History of the National Leprosarium” with author Claire Manes and museum curator Elizabeth Schexnyder. It was a top-notch program combining expert knowledge and local personal accounts. Jennings also hosted a discussion with local author Scott Blanchard. Welsh began hosting a weekly “French & Coffee” program where adults could practice Cajun French and share stories about their Cajun culture. Before COVID, Welsh was averaging around 45 people at each program (we even had to buy additional chairs)! Needless to say, we plan to bring this program back as soon as it’s safe to do so. We attended the Public Library Association Conference in Nashville and brought home boxes of free books.
We had big plans for youth programs this year, adding additional after-school programs and incorporating more learning activities. Welsh hosted an evening Family Night and offered a “Girls Who Code” series. Bookmobile added creative STEM programs to their routes. Elton’s craft programs continued to be a safe place for small groups to gather and create. Lake Arthur and Jennings provided space in the afternoons for kids to hang out, play games, do homework, etc. Pre-COVID, Lake Arthur was seeing daily crowds of about 30-40 kids after school.
And then COVID happened.
Our libraries closed on March 18 and did not reopen to the public until May 5. During that time, library staff worked from home or in the library. We watched a lot of webinars and learned how to use Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We managed to launch a new website, monthly newsletter, and YouTube channel. We offered curbside service for the first time ever (and continue to offer this as long as people want it). We made Grab & Go craft bags and pre-made Book Bundles. We redesigned our Summer Reading Program so that it could be offered virtually. There were HUGE learning curves for staff in order to accomplish this, and I never once heard complaints or woes of despair. We just jumped right in and figured it out, and when we couldn’t figure it out we asked for help.
As things began to reopen, we slowly reintroduced small group programs. We installed new furniture and mobile shelving in Lake Arthur and Elton, so that library space can be easily adapted for multiple use (whether that be large group programs or social distancing). We bought extra laptops and Chromebooks in case virtual students would need them. We adapted our hours to accommodate the needs of virtual students. During the early phases, we provided special hours for our more vulnerable patrons. We brought puzzles and books to nursing facilities as soon as they allowed us to. We continued our outreach to homebound residents, just with more safety protocols. We quarantined every returned library item for 3 days (and are still doing this). We wore our masks and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned, so that everyone could feel safe visiting the library.
And then two hurricanes hit.
We closed again for both hurricanes but we reopened as quickly as possible. Staff came to work even when their own homes were without power or had significant damage. For three months we waived fees for prints, copies and faxes. We helped people from multiple parishes navigate the world of FEMA and homeowners insurance. We printed maps for FEMA so they could find their way around remote areas when GPS wasn’t working. We provided internet and WiFi to residents from all over who were displaced.
We focused on our collections, pulling items that hadn’t checked out in years and ordering a lot of new books and movies. We cut databases that were getting low use and replaced them with a new arts & crafts online learning site: Creativebug. We’ll be watching to see if you like it. We got a grant from FINRA that allowed us to revamp our Personal Finance collection, including adding a new page on our website with free resources on budgeting, retirement, investing, debt relief, and so much more. We increased our presence on Facebook, sharing information on local resources, free legal aid, homework help, and other topics of interest.
Now that I’m looking back, you know what? It was one chaotic, stressful, AMAZING year! I won’t be sorry to leave 2020 behind, but I’m grateful for the lessons learned and the positive experiences we shared.