The year 2020 began as usual with robust ticket sales for community events, borrowing of snowshoes to make peace with the winter weather, book discussions, story times, and borrowing of books and DVDs — all mainstays of Jervis Public Library’s business.
In March, that drastically changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jervis’s Executive Director Lisa A. Matte.
March 14 was the library’s last fully-operational day in 2020. The following week, the staff began to serve the community from their living rooms, home offices and kitchens, answering the library telephone at home, communicating with the public via email and Facebook, and providing story times and programs for children, teens, and adults on Facebook and Discord, which also served as Jervis’ new virtual office.
“What we thought would be a detour of a few weeks turned into three months while we urged elected officials to provide authoritative re-opening guidance, which we finally found at the local level,” said Matte.
Just as the staff had finally established what was almost a routine with new software, new modes of communication, and an understanding that things would not be the same for quite some time, staff returned to the office in stages, beginning curbside pickup to awaken service desks that had been silent for three months.
“We added an in-person service every few weeks until we reached a new balance, which we’ve now maintained since Aug. 5 when in-library browsing by appointment was added,” said Matte. “While this was not ideal, it meant that even in a designated yellow or orange zone, we did not have to make any changes to operations.”
Without staff, none of the services would have been possible while the building was inaccessible, nor would it be possible now that the library is offering limited services, the executive director added.
“There is not enough time and there are not enough words to fully attribute the library’s successful revolution in services from on-site to virtual and remote in one week, and then back,” she said. “The staff abandoned everything they had confidence with, and jumped into the deep end. They drew on their own personal turmoil to deepen the empathy with which they assisted the public, going above and beyond within established safety protocols. We patiently answered the calls, emails, and Facebook messages about income tax forms, DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) concerns, and COVID because we had (and still have) the same questions.”
Matte said, “Now we are in the throes of another round of questions about a new year of income taxes, COVID vaccines, and other government services. We don’t just serve the community. We are active members of the community we serve. And we are not just a building. While we at Jervis have said this for years, the change in services since March 2020 proves this, day-after-day, as we continue to muddle through this together.”
Matte said the library is grateful for the support of the Board of Trustees; the city, county, and school district taxpayers; the SBA and local banks administering PPP loans; and the numerous individuals, businesses, and foundations who showed strong financial support of the library in its weakened financial position. Without the money to pay employees and to purchase resources, the quality of the staff is irrelevant, the executive director said.
“The numbers are usually the mainstay of this report. Please note that these numbers reflect a library building that was closed for three months and then open with significant limitations for 6 1/2 months,” she said.
In 2020, there were more than 35,000 physical visits to Jervis, approximately 23,000 virtual visits to the library’s website, and 20,000 interactions on the library’s Facebook page.
Facebook interactions included viewing one of the hundreds of story times, science experiments, and other videos posted by almost everyone on the Jervis staff, with assistance from Rome Community Theater providing nine Saturday story times in the fall. There were nearly 4,000 curbside pick-up appointments, 700 computer appointments, 450 fax/copy appointments, and 1,200 in-person appointments for browsing the library stacks.
This resulted in patrons borrowing 128,000 items. Of those items borrowed, 25% were digital materials using the library’s Libby and RB Digital apps. Since the adoption of digital materials, circulation of digital materials has been 10% of circulation each year.
Then 2020 saw a 43% increase in digital circulation.
“One silver lining was that as people stayed home, they discovered that the library offered digital books, audiobooks, and magazines to borrow,” Matte said. “Jervis staff supported new users via telephone, email, and Facebook, and collaborated with the Mid-York Library System to add thousands of digital titles to meet increased demand with 464 new library cards issued.”
Staff answered more than 24,000 questions and created new programs for remote and curbside pickup users. UnPlug and Play plugged back in with 107 people in attendance in 2020. Teen Swag Boxes were created to engage teens between virtual library visits using the Discord server, an online space for interacting.
The Children’s Librarian, part-time librarians, and college interns created seven different Take-and-Make craft kits for children to pick up, a service that remains popular in 2021.
“Perhaps most momentous was the celebration of the library’s 125th anniversary with five virtual programs coordinated by our (now retired) local history librarian, with assistance from a summer intern to create a virtual tour of the Jervis House,” said Matte.
But despite all the unforeseen challenges, Matte said she is proud the library was able to maintain its support of the community throughout 2020.
“These numbers are not the numbers of a library that was closed. These are the numbers of a library that changed gears quickly and excelled under pressure while being physically cautious, but also throwing caution to the wind in dreaming up a new operating plan in one week,” she said. “I know I speak for everyone when I say we are looking forward to returning to normal access and applying the lessons this experience has taught us to create an even more responsive public library for everyone.”