As many of you know, the doors to Lincoln Library have been closed since March 16. We hope that you also know that while our doors are closed, we're still here for you. Staff made a quick transition to working from home, firing up laptops and transferring phones, adjusting policies to insure access and creating new channels of communication so that we could continue to provide services to our patrons.
What can a closed library do? First off, we are still answering the phone on a reduced schedule – Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Desk phones have been routed to the library's main number, 753-4900, which is, in turn, routed to a staff phone. We also came up with an easy-to-remember email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Through these virtual venues we are answering reference questions, renewing library cards and issuing new temporary cards, providing instruction and support for our online resources, and providing referral to other community resources. Sometimes, we're a friendly voice, perhaps the only contact a person might have in a day. In addition, we are delivering programs through Facebook Live and Zoom (all posted on https://www.facebook.com/LincolnLibrary/).
While many of you know about and use some of our online resources, we are delighted that many are just now finding these gems. Use of Overdrive/Libby, everyone's favorite source for audio and ebooks, is up almost 40% from a year ago, and up almost 72% for Hoopla, where you can find new music, ebooks and audiobooks. For fun and distraction, you can access audiobooks and ebooks (Libby and Axis 360), films (Kanopy), current music (Hoopla), and current magazines (RGB Digital). For those learning at home you can find homework help with live tutors (Brainfuse), language learning (Rosetta Stone), lesson plans, handouts and puzzles (Scholastic Teachables), and read-aloud storybooks (Bookflix). For research fun you can find old city directories on Heritage Quest, peruse older newspapers, including Illinois Times and the State Journal-Register, and see what Consumer Reports recommends for your next appliance purchase.
The most difficult questions we get are about internet access. Simply, we have not been able to safely offer access to computers and the internet. We looked for solutions and referred folks to the one business in town that was offering fee-based access, but that access ended a couple weeks into the shutdown. Fielding these calls has been heartbreaking. Public libraries have long been the bridge across the digital divide and we are proud of that role. But the weight of the pandemic has been too much for this bridge to bear. We'll be providing services once we're fully open, but we wonder if it's not time to view internet access as a public utility.
Many of you have asked why we're not communicating updates about the closure on our website. Regrettably our website is on its last legs and not easily updated. One of the things we've been working on during this time is a new website. We hope by early summer to bring you a brand new, accessible, mobile-optimized website that will make it much easier to communicate with you. Along with the site, we'll be launching a new logo, an updated and colorful nod to our boy Abe.
Every day we are asked when we'll be open again. We hear you. We really do. We miss you. We miss our colleagues. We miss the comfort of routines. We miss seeing smiles of delight when a new book is shared or the look of relief when a problem is solved. We will open again, but please understand that there will not be a magic day on which everything is the same. Following advice from public health officials, city and state leadership, we will open in phases, with the community's health our priority.
Soon we will begin to bring staff back to the building, easing into curbside pick-up and opening our book drops. Subsequent phases will involve open doors, but limited activity. Social distancing guidelines will determine how we do in-person business. The next time you enter our building, you'll see plexiglass partitions and social distancing Xs on the floor. It may be some time before that happens and business as usual may look different. We will be together again, but even while the doors are closed, we're here and we want to help.
Rochelle Hartman, recently returned to central Illinois after 13 years in Wisconsin, is the director of Lincoln Library. She loves to listen to audiobooks during her daily walks and is currently listening to Snobs by Julian Fellowes and Chuck Wendig's Wanderers.