Brunswick County Libraries didn’t miss a beat in adjusting to the new normal of the pandemic.
COVID-19 closings deprived us of being able to meet in person in a variety of settings, but the Brunswick County libraries, especially the Southwest Brunswick branch, found ways to help the community remain connected during these trying times.
Southwest Brunswick Branch Library Manager Christi Iffergan says, “When the pandemic began and we closed the doors of the all the libraries to the public on March 19, 2020, library staff was able to respond to the challenges with creativity, empathy, determination and courage. We changed our procedures to help the public stay safe.”
These efforts began immediately in all branches and included the continuance of WiFi connection in the parking lots for county residents. Library employees continued working, taking training sessions from the State Library of North Carolina. Patrons could check out electronic books via computer.
“At our branch we focused on our collections, repairing books, relabeling books and other tasks,” Iffergan says.
One area of the library that was especially utilized over the past year was e-resources.
“I think that many patrons gained a new appreciation for the library and all that we have to offer, especially our e-resources,” Iffergan says. “During this time, our e-book and e-audiobook circulation has more than doubled. Even with our service hours reduced, we saw no reduction in demand.”
All the libraries opened for curbside pick-up on May 11. Books, audiobooks, DVDs and CDs were able to be checked out, and returns were placed in the outside book return. For patrons who did not have library cards, the staff placed free books and magazines outside for anyone to take and share.
“We wanted to ensure that everyone had something to read,” Iffergan says.
The library staff also offered telephone and e-mail reference services. Iffergan says they spent a lot of time on the phone explaining online resources, especially NC Live and their e-book and e-audiobooks, which are free to patrons with library cards.
In assessing the efforts during the pandemic, the importance of the library becomes apparent. The amount of people visiting the library and the number of items checked out at the library has remained the same and often times exceeded previous years.
“The library provided much-needed entertainment, enjoyment and company at a time when it was needed and still is,” Iffergan says.
Beyond providing entertainment, the Southwest Branch also worked hard to maintain the sense of community in spite of the closed doors. One instrument was the branch’s newsletter.
“The Friends of the Library published throughout the pandemic,” Iffergan says. “Depending on the amount of information we have to share, we send it out about every two weeks. Patrons told us they missed information on new books, so we started putting that in our newsletter and through the Friends’ website.” Website link: https://folswbrunswicklib.org.
In April of 2020, thanks to the support of Brooke Triplett of the Friends of the Library (FOL) and her Zoom account (a subscription that allows more than the usual free 45 minutes), the library began to host its monthly book club meetings virtually. Although attendance has not been as high as when the meetings are done in person, the camaraderie fostered over books continued.
“Brooke Triplett, a member of the FOL Board, is the organizer of the Zoom meetings at our library and she puts everything together for us,” Iffergan says. “I couldn’t have done it without her! Also, the FOL had a major project during the closure. We invested in a surround-sound system for showing movies and are looking forward to premiering it when we reopen.”
During the pandemic, Iffergan says that some branches began online storytelling and that the library system as a whole held Summer Reading virtually. Most of the branches distributed free craft and Storytime kits for patrons to pick up curbside. The bags proved so popular that they decided to continue to offer them and still offer a different kit each month.
When the branches opened again on September 1, 2020, patrons (wearing masks) could again come inside to pick up books and browse, and the library once again accepted books and other materials as donations. The Southwest Branch also resumed its collections of nonperishable items for the Food Pantry. The Southwest Branch was able to bring back some of its volunteers to serve as greeters, shelve books and help with the disinfection of book returns and donations.
Although outside groups still cannot meet in the library, all branches are now open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 5 pm. One of these outside groups was able to still work to support the branch through work done individually in their own homes.
“The Stitchin’ Time ladies are not meeting, but are continuing to craft at home,” Iffergan says. “We did sell their Christmas items again this year and have some regular craft items for sale in our library lobby.”
Iffergan says they have lost several patrons to COVID-19 and offer their condolences to their families and friends.
“I also want to thank our patrons for their patience and understanding during this time,” she says. “We have received so many thoughtful cards and emails from patrons telling how the library made their lives better during quarantine and beyond. It is so rewarding to know what this library means to our community. We have all had to learn to do things differently and adjust to a new normal.”
Want to go?
If anyone would like to get a library card or find out more about the services offered, check out the Brunswick County Library website at brunswickcountync.gov/library or call your nearest branch.
Harper Library, 109 W. Moore Street, Southport, (910) 457-6237
Rourk Library, 5068 Main Street, Shallotte, (910) 754-6578
Leland Library, 487 Village Road, Leland, (910) 371-9442
Barbee Library, 8200 E. Oak Island Drive, Oak Island, (910) 278-4283
Southwest Brunswick Library, 9400 Ocean Highway W., Carolina Shores, (910) 575-0173