MANALAPAN – Attending numerous meetings via Zoom, WebEx and telephone, responding to hundreds of e-mails and addressing logistical concerns to keep administrative functions including payroll and purchases running smoothly might be added challenges for Library Director Judi Tolchin during the present situation. However, finding solutions to the challenges and the ability to reach out to the public with services and programming are very rewarding and unforgettable benefits.
Tolchin, who is Director of the Monmouth County Library System which includes the headquarters library on Symmes Dr. as well as 12 branches and 13 members throughout Monmouth County, said that while she has to learn new technology while facing the challenges of an overburdened internet and other issues, she continues to also look forward to the next step…..reopening Monmouth county library facilities and regaining the ability to support communities with informational, educational and recreational services they need.
It hasn’t been easy the director admits, noting major difficulties have included not being able to offer public access, physical library materials and in-person programming. But the remote environment workplace has led to more and unique ways of reaching out to the public. Cooperative efforts and suggestions from other county library systems and support from the New Jersey State Library, the New Jersey Library Association and LibraryLinkNJ have also been helpful, she said, particularly in the areas of improving methods to offer online programming for both children and adults, should social distancing have to continue for any further length of time.
The initial preparation for activity after the closures has been the most difficult, she said. It included reconfiguring 70 laptop computers from public to staff use so employees could continue to offer services. It meant procuring cell phones so staff could provide their reference services from home and also extending privileges to patrons whose due dates for materials already checked out fall within the closure. Staff members also devised training guides for virtual service for patrons and developed reports for recording statistics to enable staff to continue to find ways and resources to provide services remotely.
There have been many positive aspects that both Tolchin and the entire staff have noticed and appreciated. The Director said staff is particularly comforted by the fact the bereavement group co-sponsored by the library can continue to meet, albeit in a virtual environment, yet still providing a personal contact people need. Parents have also expressed appreciation for the numerous online children’s programs which both educate and entertain youngsters deprived of outside group activities.
The closures have also resulted in numerous requests for library cards for residents who previously had not been library users. “I am delighted that we decided early on to offer interim cards to allow patrons to use our 24/7 virtual library,” Tolchin said, “Once they pick up their permanent cards, they will also have access to our physical materials.” The process enables residents to secure temporary cards, then receive permanent cards once they are able to come into their library to secure them.
Currently, Tolchin pointed out, the library is well positioned to service the 24/7 needs of patrons with eBooks, downloadable audio books, streaming video, online magazines and database access, noting there has been a tremendous increase in electronic materials and access to the online offerings.
Additionally, the library continues to be heavily involved in providing resources supporting teachers now conducting their classes from their own homes in their new virtual environments, something that is evident in the great volume increase of services on Facebook and other media.
“The most disappointing aspect of this present situation is how it limits what we can offer to the public,” the director said. But she added, “however, the biggest thrill is we are able to offer service by phone, online chat and e-mail, and could do this within two days of the facilities being closed. We have also been able to offer programming through meeting applications and social media.”
“Envisioning the new normal amid social distancing restrictions and implementing safety measures for staff and patrons is a daunting task,” Tolchin conceded, “but I look forward to regaining all of our ability to support our communities with the informational, education, and recreational services they need.”
"I am certainly proud of Judi and the entire staff of our Monmouth County libraries," said Freeholder Lillian Burry, liaison to the library commission for the Board of Freeholders. "These men and women who staff our libraries and not only dedicated but obviously love what they do. They are tireless in making every resource available within the library system for everyone regardless of age or special interest or hobbies. I applaud how they have all weathered so many changes and come up with creative ideas to meet each challenge."