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A Double Helping of Challenges During the Pandemic
by
Posted On September 22, 2020
When libraries started closing their doors due to the pandemic, most jumped into the fray of continuing to offer their services as best as they could. They expanded access to ebooks and audiobooks and provided streaming access to movies. Book discussions were held via Zoom instead of in rooms. Libraries strived to serve their patrons as well as they ever did, with one hand tied behind their back—even if it was a library that had both hands tied.

UPPER DUBLIN PUBLIC LIBRARY

Upper Dublin Township is a suburban community north of Philadelphia. Its population is around 25,500, and it is unusually prosperous in its county, with an average annual income of more than $100,000. The township is the location of multiple national and regional corporate headquarters.

The Upper Dublin Public Library (UDPL) is a very popular part of the community, with 110,000-plus items and a circulation of more than 340,000 annually. Of that total, 300,000 are physical books, and the rest are ebooks and audiobooks. The library’s e-reading materials are provided by OverDrive and Libby, and streaming materials such as movies and music are offered through hoopla. Another online offering, Ancestry, proved to be popular while people were home.

Thanks to a 2019 $1 million grant from the governor’s office and a substantial budget provided by the township, UDPL planned a move to a larger facility nearby. The new facility is a two-story multipurpose building that includes municipal and community services. Library staffers had begun the process of moving to the new location when the pandemic hit.

At the time, the staff included about 15 full-time equivalent (FTE) paid employees and two FTE volunteers. Due to the pandemic, most part-time workers were furloughed and some full-time workers were as well. In spite of the staff reduction and the complications of working in a pandemic, the employees managed to get all of the materials moved.

A CHAT WITH THE DIRECTOR

Cheri Fiory, UDPL’s director, worked for years to get a larger facility for the library. When I spoke to her in mid-August, her energy and enthusiasm came through clearly, even in a phone interview. Looking through UDPL’s social media, I noted that it has an energetic presence on the web, with daily memes, quotes, and library announcements. Since March, the library has had a large increase in virtual programming—mainly driven by Zoom. Fiory said that a virtual trivia night drew more people than would have attended an in-person event. She provided me with statistics that tell of a booming enterprise, even in the worst of times. Children’s and adult programs were often remotely attended by more than 100 patrons. The summer reading club had hundreds of enrollees.

In April 2020, UDPL had an all-time record circulation of electronic materials. Also in that month, the library began using its 3D printers to create PPE for local medical personnel and first responders. As of this writing, UDPL has opened its book drop, but it is not lending books yet. The last book has been delivered to the new building, and staff training sessions are being held there. Fiory mentioned that the original plan for the building included a drive-through window to pick up and return books outside of library hours. The plan was dropped since there was a question about the extra staffing required. Once the pandemic hit, the staffers realized that even after the doors opened, some at-risk patrons may not want to enter the building, so the drive-through window was restored.

CONCLUSION

Libraries have always had to adjust to changing conditions. When I got my first library job in 1966, copy machines were the most advanced technology. We have progressed to a very different point, but still, the adjustments have been gradual. Then, all at once this year, libraries had to take stock to determine what they are about and what they can do for their communities. UDPL’s story will stand as an inspiration, showing what leadership and thoughtful planning can do in the worst of times. Fiory told me that she hopes to resume in-person service this fall. A meme posted to the library’s Facebook page sums it up best: “If it weren’t for the dark, we would not see the stars.”


Terry Ballard is the author of three books and more than 80 articles about library automation. In addition to several writing awards, Ballard was given the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, and will appear in the 2020 edition of Who’s Who in America. Further information can be found at terryballard.org, and he can be reached at terryballard@gmail.com.

Email Terry Ballard

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