Lafayette Public Library System Navigates COVID-19 by Using New Virtual Services

Claire Lyon

@clairelyon_

Feature photo: Photo provided by Lafayette Public Library System.

Following the initial suspension of public, in-person activities in March due to COVID-19 precautions, the Lafayette Public Library System (LPLS) reports its successes and challenges almost 8 months later. 

LPLS reaches almost 96% of Lafayette Parish through their nine library locations, according to Keith Guidry, community relations coordinator. With each location providing key resources such as WiFi and the system’s extensive catalog, the library faced setbacks in keeping as much of their services and programs accessible to patrons as much as possible, according to Guidry.

During the pandemic, the Lafayette Public Library continued their previously offered services such as their drive-thru, according to Guidry, available at all regional locations as well as the Main Library. He said the library also promoted the “LPL Mobile” app, as well as online services and resources that they already offered, accessible on the library’s website.

Guidry said when the library heard that families who normally attended in-person “storytime” were missing librarians, however, they wanted to create a program that would still allow that experience under COVID-19 guidelines.

In efforts to continue the service, the library promoted “Digital Storytime,” accessed through Facebook Live on the library’s page every Monday and Wednesday at 10 a.m. Normally providing in-person “storytime” about 20 times a week between nine branches, Guidry said this allowed the library to continue the program, calling it a “grand success.” 

“It’s a way [that] since we can’t gather in person, we’re still able to reach people through story and song, and just give them a sense of normalcy,” said Guidry.

The success of “Digital Storytime” also led the library to re-launch their YouTube channel, Guidry said, which now includes content ranging from various book clubs to craft tutorials and challenges. 

Adapting to virtual programs and services, however, has been as challenging as it has been successful, according to Guidry.

Working to reach adults, teens and children, the library also focused on providing access to online reading through programs such as the “Libby” app, an extensive catalog of online books and audiobooks, according to Guidry. Using Zoom and social media, such as YouTube and Facebook, have been helpful in the library’s transition, Guidry said.

“It’s really one of those things where our job is to enhance the life of people in the community and, whether they are able to gather with us or not, we still want to do that,” Guidry said.

According to Flossie Turner, vice president of Friends of the Lafayette Public Library, the nonprofit has also faced challenges in supporting the library under restrictions. 

Since becoming an organization in 1979, Turner said one of the largest ways they have supported the library is through a biannual book sale, generating around $12,000 for each sale. 

Due to COVID-19, Turner said drive-thru services have been a way for the organization to get rid of books that would normally be at the scheduled book sales. Turner also said despite these challenges, a positive is that they have found ways to make it work.

“We found ways to get books in the hands of people, and that really is our goal,” Turner said.

Turner said that because most volunteers of the organization are those more vulnerable to COVID-19, the book sale has been modified to a drive-thru service. However, Turner said they are hoping for a way to transition back to the traditional book sale in 2021, with less people.

Following recent transitions from Phase 2 to Phase 3 guidelines announced by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Guidry said the library opening to 75% capacity allows them to continue to slowly provide more services with social distancing.

According to Guidry, services such as “Go Go Biblio,” LPLS’s “book mobile” that transports books and resources around Lafayette, has continued to be a safe, effective way of reaching the community through guideline changes. The library has also started to offer meeting and study rooms, according to Guidry, providing smaller organizations or homeschool students with a safe area to meet. 

Lafayette Public Library “Go Go Biblio” book mobile. Photo provided by Lafayette Public Library System.

Reflecting on the way that LPLS has navigated COVID-19, Guidry said he loves that the library’s focus is on serving the community. Moving forward, Guidry said LPLS intends to consider creating a blend of virtual and in-person programs in the future, which he called a “natural fit” for the library.

Through the system’s website, the library also previously shared information about free, COVID-19 testing sites, as well as general information from the Louisiana Department of Health. Following Hurricane Laura, the library offered temporary library cards to those in affected parishes, such as Cameron, Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis Parish, according to Guidry.

“I can’t imagine this community without a library system, it’s been super valuable,” Guidry said, “They are [just] doing their best to reach everybody in all walks of life.”

Information on upcoming events, current resources and services from the Lafayette Public Library System are available in the “Book Talk” newsletter, available on the system’s website.

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