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Video made the library star

Camden Librarian provides video readings during pandemic
By Daniel Dunkle | Jun 25, 2020
Photo by: Camden Public Library Library Programs Coordinator Julia Pierce provides video readings for the community on social media throughout the pandemic.

Camden — If you go to the video section of The Camden Public Library’s Facebook page, you see a grid of images, each showing a woman holding a book or magazine.

The reading material varies, but the face remains the same and it has become one of the local faces bringing locals information, entertainment and a reminder that we are not alone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Library Programs Coordinator Julia Pierce started working for the library in June 2019. She came to the library with a varied background including several months on the PBS reality show “Colonial House” that replicates life in the 17th century; working at Fort Western, and serving as an intern at Mystic Seaport.

Before the pandemic, her work included bringing interesting speakers to the library for talks about books, current events and other such intellectual items of interest.

When the pandemic shut down traditional library operations, it was time to get creative.

“The videos we put up on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram were part of a mad scramble to figure out how to continue providing programming to the public while the library was closed,” she said. “...We knew it was essential for the library to help comfort the community. We did our best to deliver normalcy through our reliable programming.”

Children’s librarian Amy Hand started recording and posting videos of story times and crafts in March as soon as the in-person events were canceled.

Pierce followed her lead with live-streamed readings about Maine’s history on Mondays to provide year-long programming for Maine’s Bicentennial. She also brought her “grown-up” story time on Fridays to an online format.

“During the early part of the shutdown, I just had to work with the resources I had in my house — what was on my book shelf and what magazines I was receiving in the mail,” Pierce said. “...When it became safe to do so, I ventured back into the library and worked with books recommended to me by Ken Gross of the library’s Walsh History Center.”

The result is a variety of relevant and interesting readings ranging from Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” to “Come Spring,” to an article from Consumer Reports on how to eat less plastic (you eat more than you think!).

“People have responded with an outpouring of gratitude...” she said. “Following the programs, I regularly get emails from people telling me how much they enjoyed the speakers and how happy they are to still be able to access the stimulating talks they’ve always enjoyed from the library.”

She added that many of the emails also say how locals long for safe times and a return to gathering in person.

“There is no substitute for the energy of a live audience and the joy of socializing face-to-face with neighbors,” she said. “Our children’s librarian also told me about the many parents who have expressed thankfulness. In addition to keeping children engaged with library, the programs provide social opportunities that the families desperately long for.”

The library was able to keep fulfilling its mission. E-book lending and film-streaming services have seen massive upticks. She said the numbers and feedback show people are rapidly adapting.

“Trying to figure out how to reach out to everyone was a challenge,” she said. “Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone is computer savvy. We made phone calls to members that we were used to seeing every day just to check in on them and say hello. Not being allowed to deliver books to home-bound members of our community has been especially difficult because we know how much those individuals rely on that service.”

In some ways, however, it has allowed the library to evolve.

“One of the most startling aspects of converting the majority of our programs to online formats is how we have been able to garner interest in them across the country,” she said. “The community that we serve is suddenly significantly larger! ...It’s also been phenomenal to watch information about our programs ‘go viral.’ We just hosted a wonderful talk on Zoom about Wabanaki art and environmentalism, and the post promoting that program reached over 32,000 people because of how widely it was shared by others. We’ve never seen numbers like that on social media for our programs before.”

What does the future hold?

“Safely lending books is the priority,” she said. “Through the pandemic closure, we have helped our members become more comfortable with accessing books digitally through our Cloud Library and streaming free films on Kanopy."

The library is gradually re-opening, using best practices for safely handling books and providing minimal-contact options such as curbside pickup.

"People are eager to hang out here again, so we’ve begun to create convenient ‘outdoor living room’ spaces in our Children’s Garden and remind people that our free Wi-Fi signal stretches out to the Amphitheatre," she said.

The library has also had to add safety features including Plexiglas at the circulation desk, a self-check-out machine, and socially distant space between computer terminals.

“If you build it, they will come!” she said. “Our community has a thirst for interesting, entertaining, and relevant programs. They crave good content and shared experiences. It’s been astonishing to see how many people were willing to learn intimidating new technology and start using social media platforms they weren’t familiar with. The need is there, and if our neighbors are willing to go the extra mile, then it’s the library’s duty to continue innovating to keep them inspired!”

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Camden Herald. If you have an idea for an interesting person to be featured in the Herald, email him at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or call 594-4401 ext. 122.

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