Kristen Wallo has always loved libraries and a job as a part-time circulation clerk at Valley Community Library launched her career five years ago

In her roles as the adult services and fundraising librarian, she’s led book clubs, figured out fun ways to raise some cash for the library and organized a variety of enrichment programs, including a cookbook group and a veterans group.

But the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to all in-person library activities until they reopened in late June. Here’s what Wallo had to say about what librarians missed most during the closure and what people can expect when they visit the library that serves the Midvalley.

Q: Valley Community, like all the libraries the region, had to close for a few months during the height of the pandemic. What did the library have to do before it could reopen?

A: Before the library was able to open again to the public, we had to be fully prepared. We made sure we had the correct PPE supplies including hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, masks, etc., for everyone to be able to work safely. We also changed the layout of the library a little bit, due to the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing.

In order for us to adhere to this, we had to temporarily remove some of the chairs and tables including some at our computer stations. We also have a new desk set up by our entrance so that staff can assist patrons when they enter. At our circulation desk, there is a new plexiglass sneeze guard which was decorated by our children’s librarian, Liz Kluesner. Lastly, we posted new signs around the library about the new safety procedures including that face masks are required to be worn inside the library.

Q: What did librarians miss the most during that closure?

A: The thing we missed the most when the library was closed was our patrons. We have a lot of regulars who come in to see us every week and it was sad for us not to be able to have those interactions with them. It was also hard on our programming staff because we had to cancel all of our in-person programs and try to move them to a virtual platform. Not all of our programs could work virtually, but we tried our best to implement them online. Many of our patrons use Facebook and our website so we created some new weekly activities including Ancestor Hunting, Get Crafty with Kristen, Brain Games, and more to be able to interact with our followers. We are continuing to hold some of our more popular programs online like Picture This, Book Club and story times to create a better sense of normalcy for everyone.

Q: How did the closure change the way the library operates and how librarians think about being a community resource?

A: The closure definitely did change the way that we operate as a community resource. Our e-book and e-audiobook checkouts greatly increased and for the first time, our main focus was reaching out to our patrons virtually. The staff was constantly brain-storming and trying to do new activities online to help entertain and educate our followers. Since we have reopened fully, our main focus is once again on working safely with the public. The amount of online posts have decreased a little since the closure due to the staff being busier working on circulation, but we are still planning to have many of our online activities.

Q: Now that you’re fully reopened, what kind of services are you offering?

A: The Valley Community Library, like the other libraries in the Lackawanna County Library System, is doing things a little differently and we are working at reopening at our own pace. Patrons are now allowed inside of our library, which we are thrilled about, but we did have to adjust our hours. We are not planning to hold any in-person programs at this time; we are planning to keep them all virtual until we feel we can hold them in a safe environment. One of our newest, no-contact programs is Take and Create in which we place pre-bagged craft supplies and instructions for kids and adults outside the library while we are open. Be sure to check it out when you come to visit us!

Q: What do you love about Valley Community Library and what do you wish people would know about the library?

A: The thing that I love the most about the Valley Community Library is sharing in my love for books with our patrons. I really missed talking with them, recommending the best books I’ve read recently, and having them suggest books to me in return. I wish that everyone knew that libraries and librarians are here for you, all of the time, even during a pandemic. Libraries are the best free resource for everyone and we are doing our best to help get books and other items to you during this uncertain time, even if that means offering more e-books or having curbside pick-up. We are so happy to be back, and we hope you stop by to see us soon!

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