Max Weiland has been a regular at Lake Villa Library District’s storytime since he was 6 weeks old.
The trip became part of the 16-month-old’s weekly routine.
These days, storytime comes to Max.
Like many area libraries forced to shut their doors, Lake Villa Library District has expanded virtual options and adapted programs and resources to reach patrons at home. Many now offer online versions of storytimes and other activities and programs, along with growing digital libraries.
Several times a day, Max watches YouTube videos of his favorite librarians reading stories from their homes, said his mother, Madeline Weiland, of Lindenhurst.
“He still has some of that familiarity and those same stories and songs he’s used to doing every week of his entire life. He loves it,” she said.
“I think they’re doing a really amazing job of staying connected to the community and offering what they can with the resources they have.”
Reaching across the digital divide
Having to close their buildings and suspend in-person library services rather abruptly as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, area library staff throughout Lake County never stopped working.
They shifted their focus, often working longer hours to find creative ways to continue serving their at-home patrons.
Like many of the programs, storytimes needed to go on, said Elisa Gueffier, head of Youth Services for the Lake Villa District Library.
“That’s our bread and butter,” she said. “That’s what we’re good at.”
Relying on the technical skills of library staff, Lake Villa’s librarians learned to film themselves at home. While they’ve put their videos on YouTube, librarians at other Lake County libraries have used Facebook Live.
In addition to storytimes, book discussions, craft programs, trivia nights and skills classes have gone virtual at libraries throughout Lake County. And more patrons are accessing digital catalogs, many signing up for online library cards.
Youth patrons and their families at Grayslake Area Public Library can access Virtual Theme Bags of themed items, such as e-books, music, virtual field trips and e-audiobooks. Library staff members also have created video tutorials for crafts, cooking and other how-to programs, as well as virtual hangouts for activities such as knitting.
They’ve made themselves available via online chat, email and phone Monday through Friday, said Jill Alfrejd, public relations, outreach and adult programming coordinator for the Grayslake Area Public Library.
“We’re trying to keep the programs relevant to what’s happening now and what people are experiencing,” Alfrejd said. “We’re working hard to reach people as best we can and to offer resources.”
A pillar of the community
At Warren-Newport Public Library District in Gurnee, a Library Connections video series features discussions between the district’s executive director, Ryan Livergood, and community leaders.
The district also has digital library offerings geared toward helping patrons with today’s needs including job, career and tutoring resources, said Sandy Beda, head of communications for Warren-Newport Public Library District.
“The challenge as we move toward the summertime is looking for ways to be able to continue to engage with patrons and also to look for ways to reach across the digital divide,” Beda said. “We’re probably going to be very reliant on virtual technology for some time.”
A staple at libraries, summer reading programs are going virtual, with library staff finding unique ways to launch and entice patrons to participate online.
“We’re still soldiering on,” said Nina Kenney, public relations/marketing coordinator for Lake Villa District Library. “We’re just doing it a little differently, but we’re still there for people.”
Along with an expansion of virtual offerings, area libraries have become more forgiving about loan periods and overdue fines.
Remaining as a community resource during these times has been pivotal, said Sandra Lopez, head of outreach services for the Round Lake Area Public Library. The library has partnered with Northern Illinois Food Bank to serve as a mobile pantry site.
“We’ve been doing so much, just so much evolving,” Lopez said. “Because the library is a pinnacle in our community, we feel the responsibility to continuously evolve to meet the different needs of our patrons wherever they are. Even when our physical doors are closed, we’re still connected with patrons.”