Letter from our Executive Director: Reflecting on 2020

From a global pandemic to the increasingly urgent fight for racial justice, 2020 flipped the world upside down and opened doors to new opportunities we never expected.

In early 2020, we celebrated the launch of the Innovation Lab, welcomed author Jodi Picoult to a sold-out theater, and were gearing up to introduce hundreds of kids to a brand-new musical rendition of Kate and the Beanstalk performed by the Westerville Symphony.

“A mom on the PTA was so excited to learn about our new custom poster printing service. She said she spent too much money on printing a poster just last week and cannot wait to use the library to print in the future. She also talked about 3D printing awards for the schools in the future.” – Mindy B., librarian

Photo caption: Board member Cynthia DeVese explores the recording studio with librarian Jessica C. (January 22, 2020)

Then COVID-19 arrived in Ohio…

Changing Gears

The Westerville Public Library staff quickly pivoted to meet the needs of our community with a renewed focus on health, safety, and equity. Our core services shifted from books to ebooks, homework help to online tutoring, museum visits to virtual exhibits.

Within a week of the stay-at-home order, our librarians were livestreaming storytimes from their living rooms – engaging familiar faces in a completely different way and connecting with new friends for the first time. And within two weeks of closing the library’s doors, we launched Tutor.com, a free virtual homework help and career coaching service available 7 days a week.

“Storytimes are the highlight of our week, when there is not much else to break the monotony of staying home. We are truly grateful!” – Kevin C.

Photo caption: Alexx C., librarian, hosts a sloth storytime on Facebook Live (June 6, 2020)

“Most days I put all my kids at the table and have them watch story time while they eat breakfast – they adore it. The 5yo asks if we can turn on our video so Annamarie can see and hear us. Also – the 5yo will only eat eggs on story time days – so I’ve started playing the YouTube videos on Mon/Fri to get her to eat eggs. Thanks for all that your crew are doing. We love it!!!!!” – Sarah P.

Photo caption: Sarah P.’s family attending storytime, including dressing up for the Saturday special, Fancy Nancy Storytime (December 5, 2020)

Staying Connected

Staying connected while apart remained a top priority in 2020. We continued to check in on our senior and homebound customers with regular phone calls while home deliveries were paused. Book clubbers met on Zoom. Conversations with librarians moved to chat rooms and text messages. Teachers invited our librarians into their classrooms with virtual presentations and pre-recorded book talks. And kids strengthened their reading skills during one-on-one virtual appointments with our librarians.

“I'm COVID housebound because of my husband’s illness and this book club gives me a chance to do something normal and familiar.” – Anonymous

Photo caption: Marie C., librarian, chats with her fellow book club members via Zoom (April 2020) 

Those without reliable Internet access dialed in to hear pre-recorded stories read aloud by our librarians and picked up free books from 13 different Little Free Libraries around town. Census, tax, and voting supplies were available for pickup 24/7. Visitors received prints via the drive-thru window, comfortably connected to free wi-fi access with the addition of new outdoor seating in the front lawn and courtyard, and borrowed wi-fi hotspots to connect to the internet at home.

“I stopped by the library to work, using the wi-fi on the front lawn for a few hours. It was very relaxing, very Zen.” – Siobhan B.

Photo caption: Customer enjoying outdoor seating in covered parking garage (September 14, 2020) 

Unplugging and Recharging

Parents combatted Zoom fatigue and cabin fever with over 7,000 custom-made activity kits, a new story trail at Johnston-McVay Park, a sidewalk obstacle course, and two reading challenges.

“My daughter screamed at the top of her lungs when she opened the mailbox and saw her The Baby-Sitters Club kit had arrived. She spread it out all over her bed and finally just put it away so she could sleep..” – Anonymous
“Thank you soooooo much for the Percy Jackson, camp half blood packet! This is a great respite from the daily grind-boredom-and-video-game zombie town state my family is currently living in because of the pandemic!” – Dana S.

Photo caption: Regan Lopez-deVictoria, Westerville Library Foundation president, and her son walking the story trail (November 19, 2020)

In October, Uptown Westerville visitors were delighted by the return of Hilda the Dragon – a smoke-breathing art installation created by The Point at Otterbein University.

Photo caption: Hilda the Dragon resting on the library’s roof, wearing a mask (October 2, 2020) 

And the demand for books, movies, and music has not wavered. The contactless drive-thru option was extremely popular with an average of 1,670 items picked up each day.

Digital checkouts and database usage increased by 40% in 2020. And checkouts of kids & teen materials increased by an unprecedented 88%.

Binge boxes, subscription bundles, a new British TV streaming service (Acorn TV), and personalized picks all helped connect our community with entertainment options, providing a welcome escape from the stress and monotony of a challenging year.

“Picking up new books every week has been a light in the monotony of my quarantine days as a stay-at-home mom. Whether it’s self-improvement, new cookbooks, new kids books, or fiction on my phone the library makes my life so much better!” – Dana S.
“O my goodness! There are so many great things about the Westerville Library that I love and that includes all the helpful people who work there but I have to say thank you for the opportunity to have the free access to Acorn TV…I’m in heaven because I have been able to indulge in period dramas and binge. Just have to say thank you, thank you for this awesome gift of the moment.” – Olivia

Photo caption: Katrina P., Human Resources Manager, reading the morning paper courtesy of the library's PressReader service (March 24, 2020)

Reflecting and Looking to the Future

While we grieve for the loss of many in our community and the world, we also embrace the opportunities that have arisen to reflect and recalibrate our priorities to meet the needs of everyone we serve. We continue to develop creative ways to expand access to those overwhelmed by a growing list of responsibilities, those with physical limitations, those without transportation, and those without reliable internet access.

Dismantling barriers to access and ensuring equity to all in our community will continue to be a focus for us in 2021. In response to our community’s need to address racial and social equity head on, we have formed an Equity & Diversity Committee and have hired Tatiana F as our first Equity & Development Specialist. Tatiana, along with board members Cynthia DeVese and Jon Walden, are on the launch team for the new anti-racism nonprofit organization in Westerville, WeRISE. In addition, we are currently investing in staff training on inclusive leadership, reviewing policies and procedures to ensure equity, and working to amplify unheard voices in our community through the Westerville Voices initiative.

The coming year will no doubt bring a new set of challenges. As we prepare to welcome everyone back to our building, we are also hard at work on new projects, including a reading challenge for ages 0-5 and a new museum exhibit. Investing in the future, we are applying for grant funds, investigating options to replace outdated systems, and develop partnerships to offer wi-fi in our parks and expand library access to students.

We look forward to the journey ahead.

For an in-depth look at the numbers, view our annual report.

 

Erin Francoeur
Executive Director
(February 11, 2021)

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