While the Central Arkansas Library System’s branches are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, patrons still have access to digital entertainment, with the system planning some new events to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Some services are newer, while other have already been a part of CALS’s services.
Tameka Lee is the communications director for CALS. She says the those with a library card have access to music, audiobooks as well as eBooks. These services existed before the pandemic. CALS is also trying to convert some of its existing programming to an online format.
"Our story times… our programmers have actually been recording those at home, and we’re posting things on YouTube so then we can share it through Facebook and Twitter and have people just go to the YouTube page itself or to the CALS website so they can see these different programs," Lee said
Nathan James, deputy executive director for technology and collection innovation at CALS, says a lot of its virtual programming will appear on either of CALS’s two YouTube channels. Additionally, the system is looking into using the video conferencing tool Zoom for events.
"Because Zoom actually lets you do more interactive meetings where you’re not simply watching someone on a streamed video. You can actually interact with them by talking, or showing video or audio. So we’re looking at online book clubs for example or various other activities where people want to interact while they do that," James said.
One way CALS is using Zoom is to teach an online Microsoft Excel course on Thursday. James says this is the first in a series of technology classes CALS plans to offer to the public, which will be taught by CALS staff themselves.
People seeking information about the coronavirus will soon have an additional resource through new pathfinder guides curated by CALS that James says will be available to the public soon.
CALS has also partnered with other local organizations to provide meals for children during this time. Though CALS already had an existing food and nutrition program, Lee says the format of the program has changed.
"We are offering grab and go sites for meals. Right now, we have them at three libraries and it may expand to other locations. So we’re working with the city of Little Rock and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and a few other partners to make sure that we’re supporting our children and families in that way," Lee said.
As of Monday, CALS had distributed 4,000 meals, with meals distributed each day at multiple locations.
In 2019, the library system hired social worker Rebecca Beadle to assist with helping visitors. James says Beadle has been advising the system on more ways they can be helping patrons right now, especially those who are homeless. One suggestion CALS took up concerned expanding its Wi-Fi range.
"At the Main Library that extended to actually putting hotspots closer to the doors so that the Wi-Fi would broadcast further outside and people could still have access to it because a lot of our homeless population have mobile devices that rely on Wi-Fi for making calls," James said. Beadle is also helping with the guides CALS is providing on benefits people may have access to during the pandemic.
Another program impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak is CALS’s NEA Big Read, which is a series of programs and activities centered around Tim O’Brien’s book "The Things They Carried." While some of the events, including an appearance by O’Brien himself, have been postponed, Lee says some parts of The Big Read are still on.
"We’re trying to take those book talks and book club meetings and things like that and place those online. So once again people can log on and look at them either live at certain times or at their leisure," Lee said.
The Six Bridges Book Festival, originally slated to happen this spring has been postponed to an undetermined date in the fall.
For those who still prefer physical media, the library system is beginning to roll out a curbside service for rented materials. Right now, library card holders will be able to reserve materials by phone from either the Main Library or Terry Library for checkout. James says there are a few limitations to this service.
"We’re not shipping things between locations, but if you call and ask for something that’s on the shelf at the Main Library, you have to call the Main Library obviously for that one. Or if you call the Terry Library and ask for things that are on the shelf at Terry, we’ll put them together for you and let you come pick them up," James said.
James says both libraries will be practicing social distancing when handing off the checked out items to patrons, such as the use of a drive thru window at the Main Library. Those who currently have checked out materials from the library system are not subject to late fees and are encouraged to keep their items at this time.