If you are wondering how residents of San Juan Island can stay informed, educated, and up-to-date even during the COVID-19 Pandemic, just take a look at what’s happening at the public library.
“We are still busy, even though the library is closed, doing the things we usually do such as purchasing, labeling and getting books ready to distribute,” said San Juan Island Library Director Laurie Orton. “We are cataloging and filling out orders for library loans”.
According to Orton, patrons are accessing the online programs in record numbers. Orton, who has worked at the San Juan library for eight years, described how staff uses gloves to retrieve the books out of the book drop, then puts the books aside for 24 hours — which is a state mandate — and then checks them back in.
“Now we have a curbside window,” Orton said. “People come up and drop off their books and we give them the books they have called in advance and ordered. You can go up on the website to find out all about how to do this.”
Even though the library building is closed to public access, the staff has expanded its ability to provide many new resources and materials other than books through its website. Once logged in as a member in the library network, patrons receive remote access to courses spanning across a broad array of subjects.
”These are self-paced classes about hobbies; drawing lessons; photography; technology classes; graphic artists; and small business ownership instruction,” Orton said.
Orton explained that once the state mandates were clear about the changes that had to be made, library staff started planning what they needed to do to meet the state requirements for safety when the library reopens. They rearranged all the furniture to be 6 feet apart and looked carefully at what they could do to continue the programs in a different way so that people could still have access.
“One of the first things we did was make it possible for anyone to get an account with an e-card, even if they were not on the island,” Orton said. “When we knew the date we had to close, we gave everyone a few days to stock up as much as they wanted, no limits.”
COVID has affected youth readers’ ability to come to borrow picture books, Orton explained. According to Orton, it has really been hard on children during this time because it’s difficult for some of them to get online. In addition to books, Orton explained that children can check out through the e-library, free school-based website links to children’s educational games for literacy and numeracy; culture games to learn about other cultures; “Tumble Books,” which are movement-oriented e-books; homework help links; and “Muzzy,” an age level program for learning languages.
“We now have three storytimes where volunteers read aloud age-appropriate books over zoom. We have one storytime for juvenile fiction, and two storytimes with picture books,” Orton said. “In our storytimes, we have songs, CDs, movies, e-audio books. We think kids are getting zoomed out so we assembled craft kits for kids to pick up. This is first come-first served. The kids love it.”
The library also has livestreamed programs that anyone with a library e-card can attend through Zoom, Orton explained. The “Know Your Islanders” program — which predates COVID — is still ongoing, she added.
“People can submit information about what trips they have gone on, and submit slideshows,” Orton said. “It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors.”
Library patrons can also access educational sites like Lynda.com with their library e-card, giving people a chance to learn about just about anything, Orton continued. Additionally, the library makes it easy for people to stay informed about what is happening with COVID, providing links to COVID information and fact sheets from well-vetted reputable websites such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, PubMED, and Washington Department of Health.
“Occasionally we do Washington Anthropology,” Orton added, “and genealogy workshops.” One of the genealogical resources the library utilizes is “Proquest” with free access to the largest family history database of individuals from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and more.
At the end of December, the library announced its purchase of 660 Spring Street — the former Life Care Center. This purchase was the result of five years worth of pre-COVID feasibility studies and plans, according to Orton. Even though the building is in good shape, she added, it is aging and there are not enough parking spaces — which is the number one complaint.
“The [current] building is just too small.” Orton stated, “Usually every 10 years we’ve expanded, but we haven’t been able to for 15 years because we have outgrown our space and there’s nowhere else to expand to.”
Construction on the new library is slated to begin in 2023, Orton explained. Because the structure that housed the old Life Care is not compatible with the needs of the library, a new building will be constructed, Orton added. A press release from the library in December stated that it will pursue funding for the project via a voter-approved bond in 2022.
“We are going to make [a new library] from ground up,” Orton said. “It will be next to the museum and it’s perfect for the sense of the community space we want the new library to have.”