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How They Survived the Year - and What's Next

Two libraries share how they connected with a cut-off community over the last year.

A Tale of Two Libraries

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Public libraries are communal hubs, so when COVID abruptly suspended many of the services provided by Acadiana’s multiple branches, administrators had to rethink their approach. Card-carrying patrons could no longer spend afternoons perusing books on shelves, nor spend a Saturday learning something new in a workshop, nor meet a friend for an exercise class. Like the rest of us, libraries had to adapt to continue to find ways to serve the families of Acadiana. Here are two of their stories:

Lafayette Parish

Prior to the pandemic, the Lafayette Public Library Systems operated a whopping 3,500 programs and events per year out of its nine locations.

Makerspace and Tech Labs held classes for hands-on learning. Genealogy personnel showed patrons how to find their ancestors. And children rented musical instruments and attended storytime hours. That all suddenly stopped, and librarians got to work making plans for a new approach.

“We relaunched our YouTube channel and did a lot of online programming,” community relations coordinator for Lafayette Public Library Systems Keith Guidry says. “Book clubs switched to Zoom meetings, and we did a digital storytime on Mondays and Wednesdays. We knew people still wanted to reach out and do things, and some of the children would say, ‘Oh, it’s Mr. Ben or Ms. Sarah.’ They missed their librarians,” he recalls. “Offering routine through digital storytime became pretty valuable.”

Some in-person programs, like crafts classes, also switched from in-house workshops to home activities. Grab & Go kits can still be picked up at any of the library’s drive-thru locations (while supplies last). Kits include most of the supplies needed for the craft project, a set of instructions and an instructional YouTube link. Projects slated for

July include creating a cardinal from cupcake liners, making a tortoise and hare from pipe cleaners, and crafting a baby chick hatching from an egg. Also available via drive-thru pick-up are the library’s Adventure Kits, supplying everything kids need for STEM-centric experiences at home – complete with metal detectors, microscopes, jewelry repair kits and more. These types of home-activity initiatives will continue through the fall, with kits available for all ages.

Providing at-home projects during the shutdown not only kept patrons safe, but also helped parents navigate the 24/7 time with their kids. “I think people were interested in trying new things whenever they were at home and needed to fill time,” Guidry says. “I saw parents had to take on the role of teaching, and in doing that, they could use some help being able to interact with their children.”

Lafayette library administrators have learned a lot about adjusting their outreach for area families, and they are taking some of the tricks they learned in the past year into the post-pandemic world. Over the past summer, in-person workshops, free Zumba classes, socially distanced story time, drop-in gaming and more all resumed at Lafayette branches. However, in addition to a host of enhanced online resources, the library’s book clubs and computer classes will continue to be offered virtually, and take-home craft and activity kits will be available at least through fall. Patrons can also check out museum passes

for free trips to Hilliard Art Museum, Alexandre Mouton House, Lafayette Science Museum, Children’s Museum of Acadiana and Vermilionville Living History Museum.

For more information and program schedules, visit lafayettepubliclibrary. org or pick up a copy of the Lafayette Public Library Resource Guide.

Iberia Parish

In the Teche area, Iberia Parish librarians at eight locations also looked for ways to calibrate for the new reality, developing innovative means of engagement by enhancing their online offerings. ”We are not a business, but we are in the business of serving people,” Amy Bernard, children’s librarian at the main branch of the New Iberia Public Library, says. “We take physical experience and morph it somehow into a take-and-make experience.”

Patrons have recently been allowed back inside the library, but before that became an option, administrators developed programs like Alycat Storywalk: an interactive walk down New Iberia’s Main Street and reading game based on the children’s series by local Alysson Foti Bourque. In addition to curbside pick-up for books, the libraries also offered online storytime, kids’ and teens’ online cooking classes, and reading and writing challenges.

Exclusive to Iberia Parish was the Take and Make Sweet Crafts program with The Frosted Apron, which still offers virtual workshops, using take-home kits, which include the recipe, all needed ingredients and a link to an instructional workshop hosted by Frosted Apron owner Stacey Dempsey and her side-kick mascot Honey Bun. Families can pick up the kits at the Main Street location, then make the treats with others, virtually, via Facebook Live or Zoom. “Frosted Apron gives us all the ingredients in a bag with instructions for the kits,” Bernard says. “And now kids can actually come into the library and meet the mascot Honey Bun. That’s been going well,” she exclaims.

“We had to do something,” Bernard says. “So this provided that outlet. We can put anything in a bag and put directions in it, and they can go home and do it. That was a big hit.” She explains, “Over the summer we also had craft day, or ‘Monday Funday,’ with fun-filled craft bags available at all branches each week, and a video.” All the library’s crafts can be completed in under 15 minutes, and kits are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Librarians are keen to keep kids learning about local culture, as well, but field trips are not yet allowed. So, instead, they offer each child an envelope with information on the Bayou Teche Museum, a free pass for the entire family, and a scavenger hunt guide.

“We did see an increase in activity [during the pandemic], because it was more quality than quantity,” Bernard reveals. “We said, ‘Let’s pack more punch into this program.’ That was exciting.”

For more information on Iberia Parish library programs, visit iberialibrary.org or pick up an Iberia Parish Library Resource Guide.

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