TRENDS Diary: Shuttered Longmont Library Offers Patrons a World of Virtual Connections

Two Longmont Public Library staff members prepare a delivery bag for a patron waiting for curbside pickup. Patrons who have placed items on hold now pick up their books without entering the building, in order to limit potential COVID exposure.

TRENDS Diary, a project of the Community Foundation of Boulder County, is a place for Boulder County residents of all ages to share personal experiences that relate to a pressing community need. The focus, for now, is on our shared need to connect and solve problems, despite the increased isolation we’re all experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dear TRENDS Diary,

I’m a reference librarian at the Longmont Public Library. Under normal circumstances, I curate the book collections, oversee in-house programs and help visitors at the reference desk.

When the pandemic forced us to close on March 13, the normal things that happen in a library all ceased: the building closed, paper books were unavailable, and every contact was suddenly over email, phone or social media. We scrambled to help our patrons in the absence of a physical space.

The hardest thing for many of our patrons was losing computer and internet access. They rely on us for printing, scanning, job-searching, banking, communication, and education. Now, some people drive to sit in our parking lot and use our wifi, or are stuck at home without any means to contact the outside world. We worry about them.

Another need the library fulfills is human interaction. Our patrons miss coming into the building to browse and talk to staff. Some call us regularly to ask questions—and sometimes just to talk.

In the weeks since we shut down, we’ve created a number of virtual programs. During our “Keep Calm and Read On” sessions on Facebook, patrons list three books they’ve enjoyed, and our librarians (and other readers) offer suggestions for similar titles. An interactive, bilingual meet-up called Hablemos allows people to practice language skills. We also offer virtual storytimes, writer’s groups meetings, YouTube “Book Bites” reviews by library staff, and “Strongmont Stories,” an audio archive chronicling people’s lives in the time of COVID.

Libraries have had to be fluid and flexible in this socially distant world, and we have risen to the occasion. In the end, a library is less about the building and the books that fill it, and more about the people that connect there.

– Devon Smith, as told to Hannah Nordhaus