If there is one small sliver of a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that it has highlighted to our society who and what is truly essential to the lives we lead. Doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, public transit drivers, teachers, daycare — we feel a new sense of reverence for the people who have kept our communities running.
Before the pandemic, people may not have thought of public libraries as essential services. However, as the boredom set in, and the kids were cooped up in the house, and our need to escape reality grew, many residents across eastern Iowa found themselves turning toward our public libraries more and more.
Libraries are not just places to store books. They foster community. They provide crucial services to people. They entertain and teach our children. They provide homework help and tutors for students. And they usher us through countless open doors as we explore our curiosity.
The Cedar Rapids Public Library has been working hard to ensure these services are available to the public in any way they still can. Little Village was able to catch up with CRPL’s Community Relations Manager Amber McNamara via email to learn more about what’s going on at the library:
What do you consider to be CRPL’s role in the community?
The Cedar Rapids Public Library is a critical resource in the community. We connect people to information, experiences and services that enhance their quality of life so our community can learn, enjoy and thrive.
In what ways has the pandemic, and more recently the derecho, impacted operations at CRPL and that relationship with the community?
Our libraries act as safe spaces to connect with the community, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person interactions a challenge. The derecho was incredibly devastating for our community. The library has been able to provide access to Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations for those in need. Additionally, we are partnering with the Cedar Rapids Community School District to utilize meeting space in our Downtown Library as an internet hub for students who need a stable connection. The challenges to providing library service remain, but we continue to reimagine and shift our processes to meet the needs of our community. Libraries have always done this — no matter how technology changes or what challenges arise, the library is a trusted source of information and access.
What interesting or creative changes have you made to the CRPL business model since the pandemic hit?
The library has transitioned many of our services to be available virtually, including increasing the number of ebooks, audiobooks and streaming services for our community. Our programming team has designed new virtual programming which brings story times, trivia nights, craft activities and even job search assistance directly to the homes of our patrons. We began make-and-take programs for families where you register to pick up a kit with the necessary materials to participate in a specific program.
Implementing a curbside holds pickup process has been one of the more creative ways in which our library has been able to ensure books and materials are available to all through a safe and no-contact process. This was a new service for the library and since implementing it we have served thousands of patrons and distributed more than 65,000 items.
We also implemented a Grab Bag program for anyone wishing to discover new materials without having to browse the stacks. Simply fill out a form on our website (CRLibrary.org) and staff will choose items from the collection which match your preferences, place the items on hold for you and then you can decide to do a curbside hold pick up or come in and grab your items from the holds shelf with easy grab and go service. It is a bit like having a personal shopper pick items out for you.
What is the plan for the future of CRPL for the duration of the pandemic and beyond?
The Cedar Rapids Public Library will continue to evaluate our services to best meet the needs of the community as the pandemic continues and on into the future, whatever it brings. We continue to see increases in the use of digital materials and virtual programs. We will continue to support our virtual learners through homework help and online tutors. The library is focused on creating a safe and welcoming environment for all our community members, regardless of whether that is in person or online.
How can people help and support CRPL?
We have two amazing organizations that support the work of the library. The Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation advocates for and provides a reliable and growing funding source for the Library. The Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library support Library services and programs and conduct fundraising activities such as book sales to support literacy and outreach projects. Learn more about helping both of these organizations at CRLibrary.org/about-us/support.