Library proves to be essential service

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Programs abound for Union Parish patrons

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COVID-19 caught many people off guard. Most people knew that it had reached the United States but while attention was focused on other national news, COVID-19 snuck into almost every state and before long Louisiana was a hotspot.

On March 13, 2020 when most Louisiana schools closed their doors for the last time for the 2019-2020 school year, citizens, parents and students were all in shock. The following week when the shut down of most nonessential businesses and public gatherings went into effect, people were focused on stocking up on hand sanitizer, disinfectants and toilet paper. Very few people gave even a second thought to the closing of the public library. However, once people settled into “shelter in place” mode, most people began to realize what a jewel the Union Parish Public Library truly is.

The Union Parish Public Library is a hidden gem used by thousands of patrons every month. “We have approximately 4,000 people visit the main branch each month,” said Stephanie Herrman, Library Director, “and those visits combined with our bookmobile route averages over 2,700 items checked out per month.”

The wireless Internet serves about 700 patrons per month and many bring in their own computers. The library computers average about 800 users per month and are used to print important documents, schoolwork, and other needed items. In addition to these incredible statistics, the library also offers eBooks, eAudio, music downloads and other digital resources which are used by approximately 530 people a month.

Herrman was born in Union Parish, graduated from Downsville High School and moved back to Union Parish in 2000. She accepted the Library Director position in 2007 and never looked back. Growing up in Union Parish and returning home 20 years ago makes Herrman ideally suited to be the director of such an incredibly essential resource. She knows the area and loves the people.

When the library closed its doors on March 18, Herrman knew that they had to immediately go into “education mode” to make sure that patrons knew what library services would be available to them during this crisis. The first step was to cover the library doors in resources, fact sheets, numbers to call for help, digital resources and any other information thought to be useful to the public. Union Parish residents should count themselves fortunate that Stephanie Herrman is the library director during this unprecedented time in history. She knew exactly how important the library resources are to Union Parish residents and she never missed a beat in providing the absolute best.

Call A Librarian services stayed open 24/7. Library staff answered any and every phone call and answered patrons’ questions and helped solve their library and informational needs. “We fielded 50 calls a week during this shut down,” said Herrman, “and in almost all cases we were able to solve the problem.” Herrman and her staff made sure that faxes, copies and prints remained available during business hours every weekday. A staff person would meet someone at the door and take care of their needs, which consisted of faxing time sheets to employers, health information, copying insurance information, printing tax data and many other essential services. Many citizens of Union Parish do not have access to Wi-Fi, printers, copiers, and other essential library services and this makes the library invaluable. During this difficult time, the library offered these services free of charge to library patrons.

Library digital services remained available throughout the shut down. eBooks, eAudio books, movies, TV shows, music downloads, test prep, homework tutoring, and much more were offered digitally. “We saw a huge boom in our digital services numbers,” said Herrman, “nearly tripling in circulation numbers.”

The programs and services created during this pandemic crisis by the Union Parish Library were nothing short of incredible. Librarians Gone Live, Monday Makerspace, Tuesday Tales, Wild Wednesday, Tech Thursday, Family Friday, Babies Love Books and Spanish Storytime are just a few of the social media offerings. Behind the Bookshelf was a Facebook blog offered every single day and consisted of Magical Mondays, Time Out Tuesdays, Who Dun It Wednesdays, Teenscene Thursdays, Family Fridays, Suspense Saturdays and Stress Free Sundays.

In addition to their digital and online services, the library staff initiated many other services in Union Parish during the Covid-19 crisis. They developed Hometown Heroes which honored staff at a different location each week, they gave coloring books to students along with their school lunches, Art Month, online poetry competition, many guest readers, Teacher Awards Program, Porch Lights in which they delivered coloring books, crayons, and board games to nursing homes and so many other p r o - grams t h a t t h e y cannot p o s - sibly all be listed. They also just painted a seven-foot tall 2020 for the front lawn of the library where students can take pictures and sign in chalk on the letters.

It is clear to see that library services are most definitely essential. “What we realized most in this pandemic,” said Herrman, “is that Internet access is essential and, sadly much of our parish is without it. We are averaging 40,000 people a month attending or viewing our Facebook programs and posts.” Herrman says that in order to provide Internet to those w h o do not h a v e it, the library is rolling out a new Bookmobile service t h a t w i l l take a mobile hotspot for Wi-Fi along with pads to every incorporated town in the parish each week. “This will be used for our Summer Reading programs and it is very limited but at least we are still providing them for a short time with services that they lack and need.”

As the state moves toward phase 1 of reopening, Herrman and her staff have a huge task ahead of them. “The biggest struggle is making sure we have thought through all protocols, supplies, logistics and layout to keep patrons and staff safe,” Herrman shared, “Safety is always our first concern but at the same time, people need the library for essential needs and a better quality of life. This is a balance we take seriously and have been cautious as we prepare to move forward.”

The library plans to open its doors to the public May 18. Herrman and staff are focused on keeping all patrons safe and healthy. “As summer approaches and we begin to focus on Summer Reading, all of our programs will be held in an outdoor open air space where people can spread out,” said Herrman.

“My other passion in life is promoting the outdoors and I feel so fortunate to live here in Union Parish where fresh air and beau tiful landscapes surround us. Here in Union Parish our backyards are full of migratory birds, beautiful spring blooms, lakes, creeks and we are truly blessed. Focus on the good!”

The library has so many outstanding programs coming soon. They are partnering with The Union Museum of History and Art to create a “Book Nook” for children. The library is also partnering with the state park to add a “story walk” concept to a children’s walking trail including a book to read as they walk and wooden animals along the trail.

Herrman and her staff have proved themselves to be an essential and invaluable team for the citizens of Union Parish. They are working hard to ensure the safety and pleasure of all patrons. They look forward to seeing each of you soon and do not forget to let them know how much you appreciate their hard work and dedication.