GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Library is normally open six days a week for borough residents to peruse the stacks, use the computers and bring their children to storytime. But normal isn’t the same as it used to be, and like all other nonessential entities that had to close their doors when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, the library had to shut down. More than two months after the last day the building was open to the public, the Glen Ridge Library is forging ahead with online services.
“At the time everyone thought it was going to be a two- or three-week stint,” Director Jennifer Breuer said in a phone interview with the Glen Ridge Paper on May 15. “Then, when it wasn’t, my first question to the staff was, how do we pivot to virtual to the best of our ability? We needed to think bigger and more long range.”
The e-book budget was increased to compensate for the library staff no longer being able to order hard-copy books, and Glen Ridge signed up for Kanopy, a movie-streaming platform that caters to libraries. The staff added a live chat function to the website, where residents can talk to librarians during the day. And as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, Glen Ridge uses OverDrive, a system that allows library card holders to check out digital materials.
“Our circulation in April tripled,” Breuer said. “We have a New York Times subscription, and we saw a large increase in people using that.”
Children’s storytime is being streamed on Facebook in both English and Spanish. Other library programming has been streamed as well: a magician that has performed at the library in the past adapted his show for Zoom, and a college counselor met with Glen Ridge High School juniors and their parents over the computer. The COVID-19 information hub on the library website teaches residents how to make their own masks, provides information about virus testing sites and details steps small businesses can take to apply for loans. It’s also the home of the library’s COVID-19 archive project.
“This is such an unprecedented time,” Breuer said. “People can donate photos they’ve taken, diary entries and things like that. We really want to capture this, for better or for worse. In 100 years people can look back at this like we’ve done with the 1918 pandemic.”
Glen Ridge residents who don’t already have a library card can sign up for a digital card at www.glenridgelibrary.org. When the building opens again, the expiration date will be extended and a physical card will be distributed.
“When we can get back into the building, we’ll extend your card,” Breuer said. “We’re basically just giving everyone six-month cards because we want them to have access.”
Breuer, along with every other library director in the area, doesn’t know when libraries will be able to open their doors to the public again. Montclair Public Library Director Peter Coyl is the head of a BCCLS task force that is planning for the eventual reopening, and Breuer knows that when they get the green light things won’t just go back to how they were pre-pandemic.
“We’re working on our plan,” she said, mentioning the possibility of curbside pickup, installing sneeze guards, and a new system for returning and sanitizing items. “A library is especially vulnerable because of what we’re inherently there to do. We share materials. We want people to sit and talk and participate. The virus doesn’t want us to do that.”
But when the library does open again, Breuer said she and the rest of the staff will be ready.
“We have a staff that wants to be of service,” she said. “We’re just as eager to get back to the community as they are to get back to us. Library usage goes way up in times of recession. They look to us in times of recovery. And libraries are ready for that task.”