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St. John Library outlines re-opening plans: Virtual resources kick off summer fun

LAPLACE — Public libraries have traditionally thrived on personal interactions and tactile experiences. With COVID-19 adding social distance to daily routines, library leaders must reconsider how services are delivered to the community.

St. John the Baptist Parish Library director Andrea Tullos said it would be a long time before the four libraries in the parish can return to normal use. She outlined a multi-phase opening approach that will put public safety at the forefront.

Virtual programming will soon be followed by curbside pick-up for books and other materials. When doors re-open, patrons will be asked to mask up and follow social distancing guidelines.

“We have put in some steps already to be methodical and thoughtful about how we bring our services back,” Tullos said. “We are trying to make ourselves much more virtual in nature. We’ve invested heavily in our electronic materials, rather than our physical materials.”

The St. John Library Facebook page links to a Virtual Tour of the Audubon Zoo, where you could find this orangutan.

While the physical doors of the library closed in March, service has not been interrupted. The library has expanded its access to Overdrive, allowing access to downloadable audio and e-books. Another program called Hoopla offers downloadable video and other electronic resources.

Homework Louisiana and a new addition called Lynda will be available to patrons at stjohn.lib.la.us.

Homework Louisiana features a live online tutor, skill building, homework help for students in kindergarten through college, a writing center, a career center and an adult education center.

Lynda is affiliated with LinkedIn learning. It offers thousands of courses in software development, web development, design and business to help adults master new skills and expand their resumes. Tullos said it could expand to include job searching.

Digital story times posted to Facebook and YouTube are among the creative solutions library leaders have used to engage children.

Library Board member Blaine Tatje is pleased to see virtual resources made available to the public.

“We’ve been very impressed and proud of Ms. Tullos through this whole process where she has been able to pivot and make sure that the services that our library offers which are integral to the community are still available to those who need it the most,” Tatje said. “While doing so, we are taking into account the safety of not only the staff but the community.”

An info email and a real-time chat feature are now offered on the library’s website to answer questions on virtual resources and assist patrons in securing a library card. Questions can be answered from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday.

Trina Smith performs an experiment for kids that they can easily and safely do at home.

“We’ve expanded how many items people can checkout, and we’ve made everything fine-free,” Tullos said. “Someone can return a book that they’ve had in their possession for four years without one charge.”

The book drop at the Central Library opened this week, and all fine-related limitations on a library cardholder’s account have been removed.

Library staff returned to work May 15 with the beginning of the Phase One reopening. Phase Two is expected to begin Monday, June 8.

Under Phase Two, curbside service will be offered at the Central Branch in LaPlace. Patrons can begin putting library items on hold using the online catalog or by calling the Central Branch at 985-652-6857.

“We’re patterning the curbside service after restaurants,” Tullos said. “We will work with customers through phone, chat and email to coordinate pick-ups. When they come, they will tell us what car they are in. We will put the materials on a table, and the customers can pick up the items at that time.”

Curbside pick-up will have a role in children’s summer programming. Library staff can make craft and activity kits tailored to the ages of the children in a family. The huge summer reading program will still be in place, but Tullos said it will look like “something we have never seen before.”

Library branches will reopen to the public during Phase Three. The specific opening date will be determined based on state and federal guidelines, and the first hour of operation will be reserved for vulnerable members of the community. Study rooms and computers may be available to use by reservation, with time limits in place.

Until computers are available again, patrons with their own devices can come to the library parking lot and utilize free Wi-Fi, according to Tatje.

“I think that is a really great idea because a lot of people who utilize our library don’t necessarily use it for the books; they use it for the technology that we offer,” he said.

Tullos said the eventual return to desktop computers will involve the use of personal protective equipment, plastic coverings for keyboards and spacing between computers in use.

“This is an amazing, unprecedented event. We’re learning all kinds of new ways to communicate with our customers,” Tullos said. “We want to make sure that we are also protecting the community in St. John because this was one of the highest impacted areas.”

Tullos expects the Central Branch and the Edgard branches will be the first to open, followed by Reserve and Garyville.

For more information on reopening plans, visit stjohn.lib.la.us.