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As the adult reference and programming librarian at the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library, Rachel Taylor developed new online programs to keep adult patrons connected despite the social distancing policies resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Taylor )
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As the coronavirus pandemic makes its way through Connecticut and businesses and town buildings temporarily close their doors, libraries have adjusted much like schools, seeking ways to enrich minds and meet educational needs via virtual methods from the comfort of patrons’ homes.
The E.C. Scranton Memorial Library is one such facility keeping the virtual door to information open for those who need to stay engaged or connected.
It swiftly adapted to the outbreak, launching remote programs and making the transition for most of its services from onsite to online.
“All of us have been working hard,” says Rachel Taylor, adult reference and programming librarian.
Rachel has been with the Scranton Library for less than a year but has been a professional librarian for more than six, most recently at the Mystic & Noank Library.
She has a B.A. in classics and history from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as well as an M.S. in library science and an M.A. in arts and history from Simmons College in Boston.
Most of her immediate family lives in Massachusetts, including a fraternal twin sister who works at a hospital in Boston.
For Rachel, the desire to be a librarian was just underneath the surface, a preference that took a bit of time to discover.
“I think I always wanted to be a librarian and wasn’t always aware of it,” she says.
“It’s kind of amazing, in retrospect, that it didn’t occur to me sooner. I was a senior in college and casting about for a career choice and suddenly realized that all of my jobs thus far had been in libraries and archives. My very first job in high school was as a shelver at my local public library, and I used to sneak between the stacks and read the books I was supposed to be putting away,” she adds.
Although a recent addition to the Scranton staff, she has been making a noticeable impact, says Library Director Sunnie Scarpa.
“She’s been coming up with all sorts of creative ways for us to continue our adult programming online so our community can stay connected while they’re staying home,” Scarpa says in an email.
Rachel collaborated with Scarpa to develop Novels & Nibbles, a new, virtual book club where participants trade reading recommendations instead of reading the same book. Participants are welcome to have snacks at home during the meetings on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. via Zoom, an online conference tool that has the flexibility to run on various platforms.
Rachel is also involved with the Classics E-Book Club, which begins on Tuesday, May 12, and continues every second Tuesday of the month.
“We’ll be discussing The Call of the Wild by Jack London,” she explains.
In addition, she recently launched a virtual Sunday movie matinée at 3 p.m. during which participants discuss via Zoom a designated film they watch during the previous week through Kanopy, the online streaming service.
“That program is particularly fun because we can all access the same resource without having to worry about running out of digital copies, and, of course, everyone gets to watch a free movie. You’re allowed to bring popcorn to the discussion,” she says.
Last, she also launched the Virtual Writers Group in which aspiring writers come together—again, via Zoom—to share their creative writing work and exchange feedback and encouragement. The group, which started April 28, was given a writing prompt and 10 minutes to come up with some written work in whatever form or style each participant preferred.
She says the initial meeting “was interesting and a lot of fun.”
Rachel explains that the virtual programs are open to the public and interested individuals can email email@example.com to sign up for any of them.
She also notes how the rest of the library has adapted to the challenge in quick order. The circulation department has been remotely setting up residents with library cards to allow them access to library resources online, the tech services librarian has been providing full-time reference services by email, and the interlibrary loan librarian has been making book recommendation lists nonstop.
And of course, the children’s services have been producing weekly virtual story times, book talks, craft hours, and STEM project videos through the library’s Facebook page.
Technology at the Library
It’s perhaps safe to say that if the outbreak had occurred at any other time in human history, offsite learning would have been difficult, if not impossible.
But as experts seek ways to contain the virus and social distancing policies force families to remain home, advances in technology have made it feasible to remotely nurture learning, entertain restless children, and keep family members sane and occupied.
Technology has also been an effective tool of which librarians like Rachel seek to take advantage.
“I think overall, technology has helped library work. We’re able to offer so much remotely and, frankly, technology makes our jobs easier in myriad ways, even as it’s transformed much of what we do,” she says.
As for the collection of books and materials, Rachel says that the Scranton Library has a good combination of both tangible and online resources.
“We have both a physical collection and an extensive digital collection now. People are able to access e-books, audiobooks, movies, and publications, as well as online courses, all sorts of information databases, professional and educational opportunities, and even consumer advice with just their library card,” she says.
The technology has also helped the library elevate its presence in the community via social media. In fact, the social media platforms have become a librarian’s ally, a means that most in the profession have been using to reach out to patrons and publicize events and programs.
“Social media has been a really powerful [and] free tool of promoting the library’s online profile,” she says.
“There’s so much of it now that the real challenge is choosing the platforms that will work best for us in terms of what age groups and demographics we’re trying to reach, rather than attempting to maintain a presence on every platform out there,” she notes.
The Scranton Library has a Facebook page, three Instagram profiles—one each for kids, teens, and adults—and a growing YouTube channel. Rachel has determined the best ways to use the tools at her disposal.
“As an adult services librarian, I try to use Facebook to promote our events and programs, Instagram to capture the best moments from those same events and programs, and YouTube very occasionally to provide experiences, such as a podcast or an instructional video, that simply would not sit as easily on any other platform,” she says.
The new programs and services the library staff has been adding are perhaps a well-suited complement to the expansion of the physical library itself. As the bigger and more modern library on Boston Post Road nears completion, the staff has also been ramping up services to make each patron’s library experience as close to ideal as possible.
“We’re all working hard to get through this and we miss our patrons,” Rachel says.
“When we reopen, however, we’ll be in the beautiful new library with all of our trusty, dependable staff members along with a few fresh faces. We’ll also have a slew of intriguing new programs, technology and resources—including, of course, information on COVID-19 prevention and self-care. We’re going to emerge a better library and a stronger community from this experience.”
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