Nutley Library learns to make the best of both worlds: in person and virtual

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NUTLEY, NJ — Like all libraries, when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the country in March 2020 and forced shutdowns of nonessential businesses, the Nutley Public Library had to completely shift how it operated. A year later, things are slowly getting back to normal: Residents can browse the stacks in person a few days a week now, and events have picked up in recent months. But during the shutdown, the library staff had to learn how to do their jobs in a whole new way.

“Connecting with patrons was not very easy during shutdown,” Deidra Garcia, the NPL’s head of Youth Services, said in an email to the Nutley Journal on April 21. “The library enjoys a lot of support from the community, but so much of our promotion relies on word-of-mouth, in-person programs and library visits, and that just couldn’t happen the way it used to.”

The library took to its website at www.nutleypubliclibrary.org, social media, email newsletters and press releases, in addition to analog promotions such as signs on major streets in town and flyers available for pickup outside the building. The staff made take-home craft kits for children, which is still a popular activity a year later, and stocked the “free books” cart outside the library with materials that were being discarded or were unneeded extra donations; this all helped the librarians maintain contact with residents.

“We partnered and hosted outreach opportunities to assist the community during the pandemic,” library Director Michelle Albert said in an email to the Nutley Journal on April 21. “Some of the outreach projects included a Toys for Tots drive with the Nutley Public Safety Department; a Food Drive with the Nutley Family Service Bureau Pantry; a Sock and Mask Drive with the Nutley High School Interact Club; a Teen Winter Coat Drive with Nutley Pride; and a beautiful peace crane project created by the members of Nutley Partners for Peace.”

Senior librarian Nick Van Dorn partnered with Nutley Museum Director John Simko on virtual presentations on Nutley history, and supervising librarian Jeanne Sylvester has been leading virtual crafting sessions.

Until July, when the library’s doors opened for browsing again, Nutley residents were limited to searching for reading material online. Through the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, patrons are still able to access Libby, Ancestry Library Edition, Hoopla, Kanopy and World Book Online, all services that allow media to be borrowed from home. According to staff, there has been an increase in how many people were looking to use the library in the last year.

“There was an increase with patron assistance to access digital collections, new library card membership/renewals, and virtual programming registration and access,” Albert said. “Reference questions and programming attendance remained the same and in high demand. As programming migrated virtually, attendance to programs such as children’s story times, teen gatherings, author events, book clubs, presentations and performances continue to remain consistent. In times of uncertainty, familiar programming, faces and connections provided a sense of normalcy for all of us.”

When schools shut down and students were cut off from seeing their friends in person for months on end, the library staff that runs youth events reevaluated its programming and shifted to the internet. New programs were created as well.

“Our teen services librarian created virtual volunteer opportunities for high school students, including a Reading Buddies tutoring program, a Teen Advisory Board, and opportunities for teens to create how-to videos and book/media reviews for our website,” Garcia said. “We were also able to add several digital resources to our website that students could access directly from home for homework help, research and entertainment.”

As more people in New Jersey get vaccinated and pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted, the NPL staff is planning some smaller, outdoor, in-person events. But not everything that was changed because of COVID-19 will have to be done away with in a post-pandemic world: Both Garcia and Albert said a mix of virtual and regular programming will become the norm.

“Presenting our in-person programs like story times, LEGO club and Reading Buddies tutoring in a virtual element, and providing recorded videos, allowed a greater number of people to access the programs that might not have been able to due to distance, scheduling or mobility issues,” Garcia said. “Although I am excited to get back to in-person programs again, I do think we will retain some virtual elements for our children’s and teen programs for this reason.”

Albert added that more staff and patrons have gotten used to using technology, so there’s no reason to stop using it.

“Now that staff and patrons have gotten over the hurdles of virtual communication and now feel more comfortable with the technology, I believe post-pandemic we will see an increased mix of in-person and virtual programming being offered, which will broaden accessibility throughout the community, both for patrons and presenters,” she said.

The summer reading program, which is sponsored every year by the Friends of the Nutley Public Library, is on the horizon. Information about the Friends can be found at www.nutleypubliclibrary.org/friendsofthelibrary and the NPL’s services can be accessed at www.nutleypubliclibrary.org.

Photos Courtesy of Michelle Albert

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