“Find the Library at Your Place” was the 2020 theme for National Library Week. This topic emphasized the technological advancements in remote access and the changing digital landscape of modern libraries.
For years, libraries have balanced their physical institutions with their digital services. Because public libraries had this infrastructure in place, they were able to adjust to the effects of last year’s global health crisis without a huge disruption in service.
When the Norfolk Public Library had to close its doors to the public because of the pandemic, it was a smooth transition from physical programming to virtual platforms, such as online Storytime and book clubs through Zoom.
The locker system began as a resourceful and convenient way to access library materials during the building closure. Patrons requested materials by phone and used a combination to retrieve items from a locker. This system included after-hours access to books, magazines, CDs, audio books and DVDs, and it remains a valuable addition to the library today.
Take-home programming, such as craft kits and Storytime To-Go kits, have been popular, new approaches to the library’s evolving infrastructure. In addition to being able to obtain materials using a locker, patrons also may access the library’s offerings through a drive-up service window, making it convenient to pick up take-home programs as well as checkouts.
The library’s technological infrastructure is such that many free resources have been available to the public from home for years. There is a large collection of electronic books and audio books, as well as several online databases.
The “Legal Information Reference Center” provides guidance on buying a house, writing a will and getting a patent. The “Small Business Reference Center” gives direction on tax deductions, writing a business plan and working with people. Lynda.com has career skills courses and tutorials on everything from time management to web design.
Norfolk Public Library cardholders may use the library’s website at www.norfolkne.gov/library to find career skills exams, practice tests for getting a driver’s license or CDL, auto repair manuals, Consumer Reports and language learning lessons — all accessible from home.
While socializing may be limited now, public libraries will be there in the future to serve those struggling with isolation and loneliness. The uniqueness of the social infrastructure of public libraries is that they provide a conduit to cultural and generational interactions.
Babies and toddlers are exposed to books and Storytime experiences that may otherwise be inaccessible. Teens often use the library as a safe space to study, do homework or socialize. Gaming groups or hobby clubs may book a meeting room for get-togethers. Going to a public library is an extremely common way to engage in social and cultural activities.
The changes to Norfolk Public Library’s infrastructure that were made this past year are small, yet significant, and most will remain in place. Today’s public libraries are a unique blend of physical and digital platforms, which makes it easier than ever to “Find the Library at Your Place.”