As you know, we are living in an uncertain and unprecedented time. All of us have been affected by the current COVID-19 crisis, with many in our community struggling with economic hardship, health concerns, food insecurity, loneliness, and a general fear for the future.
While our doors may be temporarily closed, the Library, as an institution, has remained very much open. At every step, we have guided our actions by asking how we can best support our community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as support individual residents in navigating this unprecedented public health crisis. The safety of our patrons, our staff, and the community at large guides all of our decisions and continues to be our highest priority.
How the Library Has Been Supporting Our Community
The Library, as a vital civic institution, has continued to play an important role in meeting a variety of diverse needs in our community. While our buildings have been closed, our staff has demonstrated incredible fortitude, ingenuity, and a collaborative spirit. We have worked together to make library cards easier to obtain through our website, increased the size of our digital collections including ebooks and e-audiobooks, worked with the State and applied for a significant federal grant to address gaps in internet access, worked with multiple partners to bring books to those who lack connectivity, redesigned our website to provide timely and accurate COVID-related information, and launched virtual services such as storytimes, and expert question-answering available for the public.
Getting Library Cards in the Hands of Thousands of SLC Residents
Our circulation department and marketing teams have worked together to develop a streamlined approach to making library cards available online. Since we’ve closed the buildings, we have put over 1500 cards in the hands of new patrons who are now enjoying access to our ebooks, e-audiobooks, magazines, learning platforms such as Lynda.com and Creativebug, New York Times subscriptions, and more. We have received many comments of appreciation from our new cardholders.
Growing our Digital Collections
We have been working to ensure that everyone in the community knows about and has access to our sizable digital collection, redirecting budget dollars to grow the collection to meet an increased demand. We are seeing a big jump in patrons checking out ebooks and e-audiobooks through the Libby app, new users of our ebook platform Overdrive, as well as new users and a jump in checkout of audiobooks and magazines through RB Digital, and streaming films.
Helping Residents Who Lack Internet Connectivity
We know that 13.3% of people in Salt Lake City do not have an internet subscription, 17% do not have a desktop or laptop, and 7.5% rely on their smartphone as their only computing device. The number of individuals without an internet connection at home jumps up to 33.6% for people who make less than $20,000 a year. As school, work, the ability to apply for unemployment, and other vital services are now all online, these internet connectivity gaps become even more distressing.
To help address these barriers, the library has worked over the past few weeks to secure a significant federal grant of more than $350,000 aimed at getting SLC residents connected, especially in our west side communities of Glendale, Poplar Grove, and Rose Park. The project will also allow us to hire a number of people to work on this six month project, getting residents connected, and also helping to provide income and stability for a number of people hired through the grant. We are optimistic that this program will be funded in June. Whether we get the grant or not, the Library has a nationally recognized program for addressing digital inequity, and we will continue to leverage our resources and partnerships to help community members secure reliable access to the Internet and public computing, and provide personalized one-on-one assistance to patrons who need help with workforce development, social service referrals, and government applications for aid.
Launched New Website Redesign
We have redesigned our website to serve as a virtual welcome desk for the community, helping visitors access relevant information quickly. The website now emphasizes our digital collection and provides a high quality COVID-19 resource page to serve as a trusted guide for patrons to find links to food assistance, tax assistance, business resources, volunteer opportunities, and more. Links on the front page also direct to landing pages for children, teens, and adults.
The community relies on the Library for information and digital materials, as evidenced by the increases we have seen in our web visits. Last year, visits to the Library’s digital resources page accounted for about 5% of all traffic. That has quadrupled to more than 20%. The number of unique users on the Library’s website has also jumped. In 2019, we had 5,483 unique pageviews on our digital resources page. In 2020 that number has jumped to 12,312 unique pageviews, almost a 225% increase!
Expanding our Virtual Services
As current conditions make it unsafe to provide face-to-face programming and services, we have expanded our virtual services and online programs. Library staff are offering personal one-on-one question assistance through live chat available through our website. We have also launched a live phone service using Google Voice for those who don’t have internet access. The service provides one-on-one reference help, with a number of expert teams standing by to assist with business questions, health questions, reading suggestions and more. In addition to these services, we are providing many community programs online through our website, YouTube, and social media. Here is a list of just some of our virtual programs and services:Children’s Storytime Online: Storytimes are recorded, made available on Youtube, and promoted through our social media.
Live Homework Help: Assisting students with homework and tests through HelpNow from Brainfuse. HelpNow is a live, web-based tutoring system for grad school students. Students can get personalized support in English or Spanish for math, science, reading, writing, social studies, and GED and test prep.
3-D Printing Medical Equipment for Donation: Staff from our Creative labs at Main, Glendale, and Marmalade have been 3D printing PPE, including parts for face shields and “ear savers” that save ear strain from wearing masks all day. The PPE are donated through the University of Utah to front line medical staff.
Addressing Loneliness for Seniors: After learning from the county that loneliness was a significant mental health issue for seniors, our staff reached out to local senior centers and developed a pen pal program for seniors in the community who feel isolated. Over 120 letters have been sent.
Virtual Book Clubs: We have continued to host established book clubs, bringing people together online to discuss their favorite (and sometimes, not favorite) books.
Virtual Writing Workshops: In partnership with SLCC Community Writing Center.
Growing Food for Local Food Banks: We have expanded the growing space of our Library Garden (aka “The Plot”) and plan to donate healthy food to our local food pantries and Homeless Resource Centers.
Providing Seeds from our “Seed Library”: We moved our seed library online, so patrons can order and receive seeds through the email. This program has been so popular that our team is working to fill more than 600 orders.
Partnering to Get Books to Those in Need
While our virtual collections and services are seeing high use, we also recognize that this does not work for everyone, as there are many in our community who lack reliable Internet connectivity and/or access to computers. For that reason we are now working with multiple partners, including the Friends of the Library, to deliver physical books to those who need them. Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Library, a creative partnership with the Volunteers of America (VOA), Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and the Pride Center, we have donated well over 2,000 books to SLC residents in senior centers, veteran’s homes, detox centers, homeless resource centers, and to those experiencing food insecurity.
Our staff have partnered with Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) to set up pick-up locations throughout the city for NHN volunteers to pick up and deliver books along with groceries and/or prescriptions to seniors, and others who are homebound or immunocompromised. The books include a bookmark with our phone number and a short list of resources.
Additionally, we have provided 600 books to the Glendale Community Learning Center, and are working with additional partners to expand these services, including Salt Lake County Aging Services, which has recently requested 400 more books to distribute through Meals on Wheels.
We continue to expand this program, in partnership with the Friends of the Library, and expect to put thousands more books into the hands of homebound and immunocompromised Salt Lake City Residents.
Continuing to Show Up for the Community
The examples shared in this letter represent just a snapshot of some of the activities the Library is undertaking to respond to our patrons and the community. As we have in the past, we will continue to innovate and expand services, partnerships, and programming as we identify new challenges and needs in our community. In deciding where to focus our time and resources, we have been guided, and will continue to be guided, by asking “What is needed?” and “How can we help?”
Library staff continually reach out to our many partners to identify what needs and gaps exist in the community that the Library can help to address. As an leader and influencer in Salt Lake City, I invite you to contact me if you have any suggestions, new ideas, or concerns, as the Library continues to serve, and support the health and prosperity of all as we navigate through this time of crisis, and into the recovery that will follow.
Thank you for all that you do. I wish you and your loved ones safety and health during this time.
Peter Bromberg, Executive Director
Salt Lake City Public Library