Public libraries are an integral part of any community, offering services and programs that go well beyond the scope of lending out books. As Covid-19 stay-at-home orders were put into effect last spring, the importance of the institution became even more apparent. 

Like many industries, organizations, and companies, libraries pivoted. “We got very creative, very quickly!” Truckee Library Branch Manager Bobbi Luster told Moonshine Ink in an email.

With facilities closed to in-person perusing and borrowing, all of the area libraries began offering pick-up service, permitting cardholders to request books online and then picking them up outside the library. In June, the Truckee Library began offering curbside pickup and soon after started an outdoor browsing model with racks of books lined up in the parking lot. This ran through early fall until wintry weather conditions started to move in. They’re now back to a curbside pickup model.

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“Early [last] spring we immediately looked at how we could expand our digital resource offerings so that our online catalog offered a broader depth of materials for our customers,” Sophie Bruno, who runs the Tahoe City and Kings Beach libraries for Placer County, told Moonshine Ink. “We also developed an online library card application so that folks could apply for and receive a library card without needing to appear in person.”

Luster noted that at the beginning of the school year, the Nevada County Community Library worked with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District to provide a library card to every student in the district to ensure they have adequate access to reading materials and online resources. 

(Students’ card numbers are a combination of the prefix TTUSD and their student ID. For instance: TTUSD123456. Their password is the last four digits of their student ID.)

But while borrowing books remains the main focus of any library, residents have come to rely on them for things like computer and internet access, a quiet workspace, book clubs, children’s events, and literacy programs. The internet made it possible for many of these services to move to an online format while the libraries became creative in ways to engage the community and increase outreach, particularly within inadequately represented sectors.

“Over the summer and into the fall, we went into underserved neighborhoods in Truckee to distribute books and activities to area children,” Luster said. “In total, we distributed over 1,000 bilingual books.”

A California Humanities Library Innovation Lab grant, and partnerships with local agencies including the Truckee Tahoe Airport District and the Truckee Donner Recreations and Parks District, allowed for the creation of a successful Trunk or Treat event at the airport on Oct. 30. Luster said the goal of the event was to celebrate and engage Latinx residents while at the same time giving the greater community a Covid-safe event to attend. Roughly 1,000 cars rolled through, with 125 cars — containing about 500 people — staying for a drive-in movie screening of Disney’s Coco, which was preceded by a video called A Room of Equality: Latinx in the Library, produced in conjunction with La Fuerza Latina, a local career and college readiness group.

STEP RIGHT UP: Bobbi Luster, branch manager of the Truckee Library, welcomes cardholder Sid Scott, left, as he arrives to pick up a book he had on hold at the library. Photos by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

“Partnerships have been key to all our outreach and programming efforts,” Luster noted.

One such partnership is between the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe and the library’s Read Up for Fun reading program. RUFF helps promote children’s literacy, giving kids the opportunity to practice their skills by reading aloud to therapy cats and dogs. Since there was no in-person learning taking place and the animals couldn’t go to various schools, the program went virtual and kids were able to read to them over the computer.

In October, the library hired an adult and family literacy coordinator to lead its tutoring program for individuals seeking to improve their English or prepare for GED exams. Other outreach has included regular grab-and-go activity bags, the creation of Truckee Community Storytime featuring over 40 videos of community members such as Truckee Fire Marshall Kevin McKechnie and Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon reading some of their favorite books to children, and adult services librarian Rotha Carlson helping to refresh the library at the Truckee Senior Apartments with the help of donations from Word After Word Bookshop. Carlson is also collaborating with the North Tahoe Emergency Warming Center to provide books, library cards, and access to online services.

“The pandemic has introduced any number of challenges to our service delivery,” Bruno told Moonshine Ink. “Of particular note is the balance between trying to meet our mission to connect people and strengthen community while also protecting the library’s greatest asset: our staff. There is no doubt that less open hours and less in-person programming means less accessibility for the communities we serve … we have, thankfully, been able to pivot to more breadth and depth in our digital resources and we continue to offer dynamic ways that people can connect virtually with staff via online programming.”

Overall library usage has been somewhat blurred since the start of the pandemic and has evolved from in-person services to an increase in access to other resources.

“While here in Truckee we’re no longer seeing 200 people walk through our doors every day, our checkouts of print and physical materials are down slightly,” Luster said. “Where we have seen dramatic increases in usage is in the checkout of our eBooks and eAudiobooks through resources such as Libby and Hoopla, for instance. As users are unable to physically browse the stacks, we are being asked more and more to employ our readers’ advisory skills and make recommendations to patrons.” 

MISSING PIECE: “I’d say our greatest challenge as a library staff is coping with what we miss the most, and that’s working with and seeing patrons,” said Luster.

In Placer, Bruno said library usage since mid-March has been on par with limited service hours and reduced program offerings. Her facilities’ numbers are comparable with other library systems, both regionally and statewide.

“The best problem our libraries face is that our communities want more access to the services we provide, and that is proof-positive of the support we receive in Placer,” Bruno said. 

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