MANALAPAN – Not only is the Monmouth County Library alive and well, but it has seen creative growth in technology, services, and an increase in membership during the past ten months, the director told Library Commissioners at their reorganization meeting earlier this month.
Library Director Judith Tolchin agreed with the Commissioners that the COVID-19 restrictions have created trying times for a library that includes 13 branches and 13 member libraries, 137 employees, and more than 130,000 patrons.
But it is comprised of a staff that is ambitious, works well together and offers and adapts creative resources to continue to serve the public, accomplishments possible because of a carefully designed team of leaders who have been capable of keeping the library flourishing, she said.
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While visitation within the libraries remains limited and varying in its different locations, more than 18,0000 patrons over the past six months have met this challenge themselves, by picking up their requested books and other items through the library plan without having to enter the buildings. Over that same period, another 13,000 patrons have had their questions at the library’s reference desks answered, questions which range from the opening hours for service or how to download a book or access a virtual concert. Those responses are in addition to the more than 25,000 persons who have telephoned in questions since March to any of the library branches or headquarters.
“None of these has been an easy accomplishment, “ Tolchin told the commissioners, “but with an essential team and cooperative employees, we have been very successful.” The director further noted that since the beginning of the pandemic, the library has been open all but two days to provide their services in person or online.
The Directors’ remarks were emphasized by the various department heads who gave their annual reports at the Board of Commissioners meeting, with Eastern Branch Supervising Librarian Kim Avagliano pointing out that while the biggest challenge was making it possible to offer a continuum of service in spite of state mandates and safety precautions, “the number of letters we have received praising us and thanking us” shows “we were never out of touch with our patrons, and we appreciate that they were able to have their library needs met.”
Supervising Librarian Robyn Miller at the Headquarters Library said the pandemic gave the library staff the opportunity to polish skills in Webinars, Zoom meetings, Twitter and other online services. The biggest challenge Miller said was assuring safety and a non-stressful atmosphere when opening the libraries on a limited basis, to enable patrons to see the library meets every safety precaution, provides essential signage for reassurance, and provides safety distance space for those using library facilities.
Children’s Librarian Pat Findra reiterated the positive side of the past ten months, saying programs such as bedtime story hour initiated online during the pandemic will continue in the future because of the popularity of the program. Weekly activities and suggestions for at home recreational and reading activities have also been successful online programs, she said, as well as special events which have been offered virtually throughout the limited openings.
Programs Director Laura Migliore also highlighted the many new ideas which came out of the pandemic, noting her first duties after visitation limitations were mandated included cancelling all the live programs, presentations, and musical events that had been planned throughout the year. She praised Tim McLoone for offering one of the first musical programs virtually, with McLoone donating his talents and performing from his home to an on-line audience. She noted the high attendance at numerous programs, with Howell High School’s presentation one of the most popular of the series during 2020.
Both Tolchin and the Board commended Headquarters Assistant Library Director Heidi Amici, who also heads the technology planning staff, for her knowledge and ability to get numerous programs online at numerous different outlets, keeping the web page current and filled with numerous activities and programs, and meeting every challenge of the technology programs. Amici quoted statistics that showed programs initiated several years ago for E-Books and audio books have been well received since their inception and throughout the pandemic, with total usage up more than 42 per cent in the past three years.
Because of the interest and demands of the public, Amici said more improvements are in the making and will be implemented soon, including self-serve computer tablet stations in libraries, and more than 3,000 magazines available online beginning in February.