Reading time

Alika Edwards reads a book to her 2-year-old son, Kessler, Monday afternoon at the Bryan library. The library has continued to evolve over the years, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local libraries have been changing with the times and remain as relevant as ever, even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and especially during this week, National Library Week.

Both library systems in Williams County — the Williams County Public Library (WCPL) and the Montpelier Public Library — are celebrating the week in different ways as they continue to reopen and offer more programs after the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things down.

“Welcome to Your Library”

The theme of this year’s Library Week, according to the American Library Association, is “Welcome to Your Library,” and the county libraries have much to welcome people with.

The Montpelier Public Library will be having crochet class today while a library-themed storytime is scheduled for Wednesday and kids can stop in between 3:30-4:30 p.m. Thursday to read to a librarian.

Montpelier Library Director Angie Humphrey said this week library cards will be free and they are also having a raffle for kids and adults. Each item checked out will result in a free ticket while five tickets will be given to everyone who gets a new library card.

WCPL will be holding story times and offer online programing in the form of a new episode of “Lay Me Down to Rest: The Cemeteries of Williams County” and the launch of a new series, “Cricut 101,” with the Edgerton Branch Library.

Overall, though, WCPL Director Jeff Yahraus said they were “not (doing) nearly as much as we’d like.”

But, they are starting to come back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re starting to do some more things, so we’re excited for that,” he said. “We’re hoping May 1 will bring around some more things like additional hours and probably weekend hours, at least at main (branch in Bryan).”

In addition to in-house story times, he said they are starting to have their book clubs meet again, and they are accepting donations of used books.

The library is “starting to get back to normal” as the staff and everyone gets vaccinated against the virus, Yahraus said.

“We’re people people, so when we can’t see our patrons and talk to them and have a conversation about the books we love, it makes it really difficult for us,” he said.

They’re still working within COVID-19 guidelines of social distancing and requiring masks, Yahraus said, but the all the collections are browsable and computer access is available, though seating is limited.

Despite the pandemic, both local library systems have been doing well.

“We’ve seen a little bit of an uptick, especially since the vaccinations have been going very well,” Humphrey said. “We have definitely seen a lot more people in here, taking advantage of our services. Even people who aren’t necessarily patrons, or we haven’t seen them much before, just to use a computer or make copies. From our standpoint, it seems people are starting to get out and about.”

Everyone still needs to wear masks, she continued, but they don’t have enough foot traffic to really have to worry about having too many people in the building at one time, though they do keep track.

Programs are also limited to 10 people.

“We have everybody keep their distance and we’re still doing the cleaning and people have been just super about everything,” Humphrey said. “They’ve been respectful of other people, respectful of our staff. It’s been super nice under the unfortunate circumstances.”

Looking ahead, they are planning on hosting a lot of their summer programming outside at the Municipal Park across Main Street.

At WCPL, Yahraus said the digital checkouts at the library, through applications like Libby and Hoopla, jumped from around 2,000 a month to more than 5,000 during some months.

“We’re starting to see a rebound of our circulation of in-house people and usage,” he said. “Last month was only a couple thousand less than this time two years ago.”

WCPL is working on expanding its services in different ways, Yahraus said, such as becoming a passport agency as early as this summer. They have also used some COVID-19 relief funds to purchase lockers that allow people to pick up items they checked out when the offices are closed.

That was supposed to happen last year, but Yahraus said the contractor has been having to push it back.

Evolution

Both Humphrey and Yahraus believe libraries are still relevant and important, in part due to them adapting to the times.

Yahraus said WCPL provides people with their entertainment, reading and Wi-Fi needs.

“We expanded all of our Wi-Fi two months into the pandemic so you could sit probably 200-300 yards from every one of our locations and get free internet,” he said. “We see people all the time up there in the evenings, sitting out in their cars. We’re going to put some more benches around so people can sit out in the summer ... We do supply a lot of things for people who can’t afford it.”

Humphrey agreed, having had similar experiences with people using the Wi-Fi.

They have also started bringing in Wi-Fi hotspots, which they were able to offer to patrons to check out if they didn’t have Wi-Fi at home. Their Wi-Fi also extended out into the parking lot.

“Even during hours we were closed, people would bring their kids up and get the free Wi-Fi, since they didn’t have it at home, to work on their computers ... to do whatever they needed to do for their school work,” she said. “That is probably the biggest thing I’ve seen we’ve been able to help with.”

The Montpelier library has also been able to help in other ways, such as providing necessary tax forms or simply offering interactions with people.

“Not a day goes by when they’re not thrilled these gals are helping them out with whatever they need help with,” Humphrey said.

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