Editor’s note: This is a weekly series focusing on the importance of buying local.
Since re-opening with limited days and hours in June, Dave Zilka, director of Monessen Public Library, has been happy with the number of customers who have visited 326 Donner Avenue.
Zilka said the library’s circulation hasn’t changed much and computer usage there hasn’t had much of a “drop at all.”
While he admits some things had to change and programming altered, the library has kept its importance to the community and continues to provide services.
“One thing that at least we have been able to provide (in addition to the services) is socialization,” Zilka said. “People are social, and they like to be out. We have a lot of space here to spread out. People can come to use our meeting rooms and to check out items.
“Definitely, through COVID-19, we haven’t had live programs. We’ve switched to a weekly online story time. We’ve partnered with other libraries within our system to provide virtual program. We did a bunch of those last summer and in the fall.”
While Monessen Public Library has been open since June 22 after closing March 13, Peters Township Public Library is planning to reopen Monday.
“I believe public libraries are still an extremely important resource, and I think in many areas, the public library is seen as the community’s most valuable asset,” said Lacey Love, who is library director of Peters Township Public Library. “In the past year, libraries all over the area have done an amazing job of providing modified services and virtual programs to the public. We were still offering many of our usual services, they just looked a little bit different.”
The reopening is another step toward normalcy.
“We know our patrons have missed us,” Love said. “We can’t wait to see everyone in the library again, and we know how many important services the library offers. However, we want to make sure we are keeping library employees as safe as possible, which is why we are doing a phased reopening at Peters Township. Services will be limited at first and will hopefully phase in over the coming weeks and months.
“In nonpandemic times, public libraries serve as a community hub. We provide entertaining and educational programs for all ages, training in computer skills, support for job-seekers and much more.”
Zilka said the new way of operations has opened some to technology, which can lead to more opportunities.
“It’s become, for better or worse, an online library, in some cases,” Zilka said. “It’s definitely impacted live programs and events. In some ways, though, it has opened up different opportunities for most.
“We have information for all walks of life.”
Love said it depends on the area a library rests whether the building is being used at a rate that she would currently like to see.
“In a typical year, the Peters Township Library sees more than 200,000 visitors per year,” she said. “Even though the library building was closed to the public or functioning at limited capacity for most of 2020, we still saw 60% of our normal physical circulation, which is a great number. Our patrons still strongly supported us throughout the pandemic, which we really appreciate. “
Love said while many people now have high-speed internet in their homes, and access to millions of different resources, “a digital divide still exists in this state, which is where libraries come in.”
“For many people, public libraries are the only place to access a computer or reliable internet connection, whether that’s due to financial issues or broadband connectivity problems,” she added. “For people who do have an internet connection, libraries provide a multitude of vetted sources.”
Love said while it is easier to purchase books and have them in as little as a day, libraries provide a meaning function.
“All of the public libraries in Washington County provide access to Overdrive and Libby for our patrons,” she said. “Peters Township Library’s eBook and eAudio circulation through Overdrive increased by more than 30% in 2020, due to the library being closed. We also offer Freegal (music), Kanopy (movies), and Flipster (magazines). So, there are many options to access resources through the library where you don’t even need to leave your house.”
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