Updated: Apr 5
The use of the library system’s virtual library has exploded, with some numbers expanding by more than 300 percent. The physical locations of Anne Arundel County Public Library closed March 12 and, at this point, aren't expected to reopen until May 3.
According to library managers, the number of new e-library card registrations has gone from a normal enrollment each month of around 400 to 1,714 this March. The download of e-books on one of the available platforms has gone from 305 in February to to 904 in March.
The library is adjusting its electronic inventory available over the internet. It is purchasing approximately $150,000 of stock currently and may do additional purchases down the road.
“We're going to continue to increase our purchasing as long as the shutdown continues,” said Christine Feldmann, the library’s marketing and communications manager. “That’s the way people are going to be able to use our services.”
The daily livestream of the library’s children’s story-time on their Facebook page, is becoming even more popular than it was before the emergency. Facebook presence of patrons has grown by 10 percent since the emergency and shutdown.
“Certain programmers, you know, have groupies at this point,” Virtual Services Manager Stephanie Petruso said. “They're just they're so grateful to see familiar faces. It gives their kids, their little ones, something to do. So this is really aimed at kids four (year old) and under.
I mean zero to five. There's a lot going on for the older kids. The school system’s doing a lot for the students that are out of school, but for the real little ones, this is a nice way for them to engage.”
She said the average livestream of the story time has 150 live viewers. The video is limited to staying up on the Facebook page for 24 hours. That’s because of the need not to infringe on the publisher’s rights, Petruso indicated.
As of 4 p.m., Friday April 3, the previous day’s story time livestream had 1,200 views, according to Facebook. Another library offering that has become very popular are e-books. The downloadable electronic books are very popular, especially with the shutdown.
“I think everybody is just so desperate for information and entertainment.” Feldmann said,
“There's been a huge increase in the use of resources like e-books,” Petruso said. “and Kanopy, the streaming movie service. We've been trying to promote those things that the library offers, get as many people connected to them as possible.”
One of the programs the library is offering is an online weekly movie discussion through the Zoom app of one of the movies offered in the Kanopy collection. Patrons can watch the movie and then watch a livestream hosted by film-lover Andy Wolverton. Wolverton’s last weekly livestream had 35 live viewers, Petruso said. Wolverton normally hosted the program in person.
“He knows how to run a movie discussion really well,” Petruso said. “We’re trying to figure out how to deal with big crowds on Zoom and let people actually talk. That, I think, is the real valuable part. We’re all feeling really isolated right now. I think people are appreciating that opportunity to talk to people that don't live with them.”
Librarians and staff from the county system are also feeling concerned about the most vulnerable parts of their patron population who were a big part of their daily routines. The homeless, children from troubled homes, and seniors who didn’t often get out were able to visit the libraries before the shutdown.
The county library system even started hosting two social workers in the last six to twelve months, Feldmann said.
“That's a big part of what we provide,” she said. “And so, you know, we're extremely concerned about our customers who are most vulnerable categories.”
“We worry about them,” Petruso said. “We worry about the kids that come in that don't really have a safe home to go home to. Sometimes school and library is a respite from that, and it’s not right now.”
According to Petruso, the county’s department of social services has started offering mobile showers at the Brooklyn Park Library location at 1 East 11th Avenue in Baltimore.
Business is booming for the county’s virtual library during the shutdown. Library staff are enthusiastic about taking on the challenge of serving their patrons through the internet. But they also have a great longing to get back to the brick-and-mortar library buildings.
“We know how the community relies on us, especially some of our at-risk populations,” Petruso said. “We miss our public, and we miss being able to provide that support that we normally provide.”