SHELBY COUNTY, Ky. — Pam Federspiel has been working at the Shelby County Library for almost three decades. Last March when she and her staff were mandated to close the library, it was the director's toughest chapter of her career.
What You Need To Know
- More than half of Shelby County residents hold active library cards
- Amid the pandemic, the library created a curbside service, made grab and go kits and expanded digital resources
- The library is hoping to resume indoor programs later this year
“It hit us all at once,” Federspiel said. "It was just so sad to come into the library with no one here. I said to the library, 'we’ll be back someday.'”
The library even had to pause its bookmobile services which hit homebound people the hardest.
"They depend on that reading and then also they depend on the bookmobile librarian to have that one-on-one experience because that might be the only person they see that week some of them,” Federspiel said.
For community members, sadness was a mutual feeling.
"It was like an artery was shut off,” said avid reader and weekly library visitor Emily Swigert.
The staff went to work on a plan right away to get books back in the hands of the more than half of Shelby County residents who have active library cards.
The four to five indoor programs they held weekly went virtual and a curbside service was created to allow people to check out books without stepping foot inside of the library.
"I appreciate them being able to still provide us with books. My wife is somewhat of a shut-in and reads an awful lot of books, so it’s been very helpful to us,” said longtime Shelby County Library patron Don White.
The staff that became friends to library visitors over the years quickly became much more when they created ways to continue serving the community.
“They’re all like my family almost because during the pandemic, I still came regularly because they brought it out to my car whatever I call ahead and requested, so they were kind of my connection to the outside word,” Swigert said. “They went above and beyond the call of duty."
When everyone was stuck at home, the library pushed digital resources like the online catalog, audiobooks and streaming services.
“A percentage of our community does not have internet access at home and everything moved online— school, work. We saw that as a need for the community and so we invested in wireless hotspots,” said Mason Warren, Shelby County public relations coordinator.
Even after partially reopening, digital resources are still as popular as they were last March and April. The library offered grab and go kits and do-it-yourself projects which was a popular option for families with children.
"Well, you know my preschool went out, and I have to learn at home now. We have been doing a lot of stuff at the library and I like books so much that I’m planning to do the library a lot of days,” said four-year-old Audrey Larkin.
Audrey was sad she couldn’t attend the library's summer program like she does each year, but she and her mom made frequent trips to the library for grab and go crafts and kits throughout the pandemic.
"We have a phenomenal library, and we’re really lucky to have this gem in our community,” said Carla Larkin, Audrey’s mom.
The library plans to reintroduce its summer program outside on the lawn this year and hopes to resume indoor programs by September.
Some of the changes made to keep visitors safe during the pandemic will stick around long after it’s over like book quarantine, face masks and plexiglass at checkouts.
“It’s just hard to let go of a lot of practices. People coming in you don’t know if they are vaccinated or not,” Federspiel said.