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MO Libraries Keeping Patrons Connected During Pandemic

Virtual library story times are becoming part of the new normal in Missouri. (AdobeStock)
Virtual library story times are becoming part of the new normal in Missouri. (AdobeStock)
April 23, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Their doors may be closed because of COVID-19, but libraries throughout Missouri still are serving their communities.

Cindy Dudenhoffer, president of the Missouri Library Association, says librarians already work hard to ensure they have materials and programs that are representative of their patrons, and now they're stepping even further outside of the box.

She's heard from libraries that are offering a variety of virtual activities including story times, crafts and book discussions. And others are reaching out over the phone to those digitally disconnected.

"I know that's happening all over the place," she states. "People think of librarians as these ladies that hand out books, but that's just not true.

"In fact, we have a librarian that's serving lunch to children if they don't have food security. So there's just all kinds of services that libraries provide for their communities."

A new Public Library Association survey shows 76% of libraries have extended online renewal policies, 74% have expanded online materials and 61% have added virtual programming.

Ramiro Salazar serves as president of the association, and says libraries are gearing up to reopen once deemed it's safe, which will be determined by their local authorities. He says some might begin by offering curbside or grab-and-go service.

"The next phase is where, gradually, we will be able to accommodate people going into the building, but that will have to be very much managed in terms of how many people can come in," he states. "Programs will probably be the last activity that libraries will be offering."

The Trump administration included library support in the recently passed CARES Act, however there are concerns that it won't be enough.

Here in Missouri, state librarian Robin Westphal says libraries could use funding to expand technology infrastructure.

"Making sure that the libraries have the best broadband that they're going to be able to get," she states. "Folks are sitting in the parking lots of libraries doing homework or accessing the Internet, and libraries are realizing that their bandwidth needs to be better."

As COVID-19 recovery efforts get under way, Westphal adds that libraries will remain a crucial resource for people seeking employment, homework assistance and connection to other community services.

Disclosure: American Library Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Census, Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MO