Area students have been back in school for a month now, and parents are finding the public library more important than ever as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lebanon-Wilson County Library System had closed from March through June, and since then community members have made the most of its services.
“I’ve been coming here for a couple of years, and my little one just really got old enough to read,” Watertown resident Katrina White said. “Once they reopened it was a lifesaver, because my daughter didn’t get to finish out her kindergarten year after COVID-19 and fell behind on her reading. Having books she can read at her level has helped a lot.”
Watertown Public Library Branch Manager Pamela Wiggins said the system’s public computers and Wi-Fi hotspots are also helping students complete their online coursework with Wilson County Schools’ hybrid learning model.
“The only restriction we have right now is that the time on the computers is limited to one our, and I am not at full capacity on my computers because of social distancing,” she said. “Because we loan out hotspots, that has been a lifesaver for some of the parents who don’t have internet at home.”
Hotspots are available for one week at a $10 rate, and the library system has 14 in total. Its social media outreach has also picked up over the last few months, primarily through story time sessions to keep children engaged.
“We have a new online book club on Goodreads,” Wilson County Library System Assistant Director Amy Byrum, who works at the Mt. Juliet branch, said. “We also have a YouTube channel with book recommendations and other programming that we started during the shutdown, and we’ve kept up with that.”
Wilson County Library System Director Alesia Burnley said most of the online content was a new experience for employees, and that the community has responded well.
“We’re getting a lot of views, shares and likes,” she said. “We’ll probably keep doing it online at least through October or November, but we’re excited to be back face-to-face with the kids when we can.”
In the meantime, the community is welcome inside any of the system’s three branches. Standard safety measures are in place to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, as well as routine fog cleaning.
“We are of course doing the 6 feet apart, hand sanitizer at the door and requesting patrons to wear masks,” Burnley said. “Computers have ben spread out, and we sanitize everything from the keyboards and desks to the chairs after they’re used.”
Those uncomfortable with coming inside can request books by phone and pick them up curbside, and staffers are also offering take home crafts for children. But most visitors are ready to mask up and get back to exploring the shelves themselves.
“At first it was very difficult,” Wiggins said of the closure. “People here, most of them depend on the library. We’re the entertainment, the internet, everything. When the library opened back up, we tried to limit the number of people inside at first, but people were so excited to get back.”
Sinead Finocchario, of Alexandria, was one of those people. She and her family have visited Watertown’s library for 12 years and her children enjoy earning points in the Accelerated Reader program.
“I have three kids who are huge readers,” she said. “We knew it was going to be closing, and I actually took a picture for Instagram because we came here and stocked up on books beforehand.”
Throughout September, the facilities are also celebrating Library Card Sign-up Month, with the Lebanon and Watertown branches giving away small prizes to people who sign up. Patrons can also have their old library cards replaced for free at the main branch.
“Having a library card just opens up a whole new world,” Burnley said. “There’s free books, free videos and audiobooks, plus we have our online database, the Universal Class program where you can learn about things from art and music to accounting, and the Tennessee Electronic Library.”