A virtual library system for a virtual communityDec 31, 2020 01:01PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
As Cecil County rolled into March this year and everyone’s world from Rising Sun to Perryville to Earleville to Georgetown dramatically changed nearly overnight, the value statement for the Cecil County Public Library system did not budge.
In fact, over the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, the values listed in the statement -- Champion Reading, Build Knowledge and Inspire Curiosity -- have gotten broader and stronger.
Despite the fact that the system’s seven branches in Cecilton, Chesapeake City, Elkton, North East, Perryville, Port Deposit and Rising Sun have yet to reopen, the more than 64,000 county residents who hold a library card can still read an ebook or a magazine, download a movie, track down material and resources for school, study for an upcoming exam, take an online course, learn a new language, attend a lecture and continue to rely on their local library for access to the information they need.
All day and every day.
So the question is this: How has a multi-layered, county-wide agency that serves the 100,000 residents of Cecil County managed to not only continue to reach the public, but thrive in the process, without so much as opening one door of its seven branches?
The answer, said Cecil County Public Library Executive Director Morgan Miller, has been through innovative strategies, the commitment of a dedicated staff and by clinging to the principles of its mission statement.
It all began on March 12, when the library system closed it seven branches.
“At the time, none of us had any eye toward what the future held, but as a result of having to reframe and re-shift our strategy, we have learned to navigate through dramatic changes, and yet keep these strategies intact with the library’s core values, one of which is responsiveness to our community,” Miller said. “In the first few months of the pandemic, while our buildings were closed, our shift was how we were going to continue to provide information, only virtually and develop new platforms of communication.”
Through their efforts, the CCPL has preserved – and even strengthened – the pipeline of resources and information to Cecil County.
* Through applications like OverDrive, Libby, Android, hoopla, Kindle Fire and rbdigital, CCPL users can borrow as many as ten items at a time – all online.
* Lynda.com provides users with unlimited access to thousands of video courses led by industry leaders.
* Gale Courses open the door to users who wish to attend six-week online courses taught by expert instructors.
* Mango Languages bring the
world to a home computer by providing users with self-paced language
courses that introduce the learner to cultural insights and grammar
specific to their language of choice, delivered through native
* The library system’s Testing & Education Reference Center helps students in high school and college prepare for higher education.
* The Learning Express Library includes tutorials and practice tests which will help you prepare for a wide variety of tests.
* Through the library’s HelpNow, students from kindergarten through college, as well as adult learners, job seekers and veterans can connect with tutors who can provide assistance with homework, skill-building and writing.
* The library now offers the opportunity for new users to receive an Online Card, giving them instant access to library resources, classes and digital streaming and downloads.
* The CCPL now offers contactless pickup and printing services at its locations in Cecilton, Chesapeake City, Elkton, Perryville and Rising Sun.
* In a county where reliable internet access is not always available, the library extended strong WiFi signals into the parking lots of all branch locations.
* In partnership with Cecil County Public Schools, students and educators can use their school ID to access CCPL resources and materials.
* Through regular Zoom meetings with businesses and non-profit organizations, the CCPL’s Business Information Center has been able to help these agencies create online models tat have effectively enable them to continue to function and succeed during COVID-19.
* In conjunction with summer reading programs like Students Progress and Read with reading Kits (SPARK), the CCPL’s Bookmobile traveled around the county this summer to offer all rising sixth-graders the opportunity to select and keep three books.
* In partnership with Cecil County Parks and Recreation, CCPL installed the county’s first Story Trail at Calvert Regional Park. Families can read a story as they hop, skip, jump, or run to find the next page and enjoy fun learning activities along the way.
* In September, the CCPL began to offer “Activities to Go,” take-home learning kits for children, teens and families.
‘In the emergency of the situation’
“We have attempted to pull our users into our digital spaces at warp speed,” Miller said. “Over the past decade, libraries have begun to re-imagine their physical and virtual spaces, and the pandemic has accelerated that direction. In the emergency of the situation, we developed and initiatives that we had been discussing for quite some time.
“In the past, we would have taken months to create these new platforms, and now we’re doing it practically overnight, and that has allowed us to trust ourselves more as an organization.”
The work that Miller and the CCPL staff have been doing during the pandemic has been woven into a five-phase punch list of progression that ultimately will lead to the last phase – the projected reopening of its seven branches in 2021.
“We’re currently and actively pursuing Phase Four, which is probably our most significant hurdle to cross, from the standpoint of determining our internal preparedness,” Miller said. “In order to reopen our branches, there is a significant amount of building reconfiguration that needs to happen. We need to reconfigure the interiors of all of our branches, in order to make them as safe as possible, as well as make sure that other safety protocols are in place.”
Every Friday afternoon at about 2 p.m., Miller conducts what she refers to as “Friday Forum,” an informal exchange of ideas and status reports among CCPL branches. From her home office computer, she sees several reflections of herself peering back at her – a large team of dedicated professionals working from their homes in an effort to push the message of the Cecil County Public Library forward during the worst pandemic the world has seen in 100 years.
“I am very realistic about where we are right now, and I don’t have all of the answers, but through the guidance and the information we are working with, we are making the decisions in the best interests of the community and the organization,” she said.
A few years ago, during the ceremony to announce the construction of the $22 million North East Library – which will become the CCPL’s eighth branch and is scheduled to open in 2021 – Miller was quoted in an interview.
“I said, ‘Think of a library as less of a noun and more as a verb,’” she said. “At the time I first said it, I wasn’t aware of just how precious its meaning would become. Libraries have always had the need to meet the people where they are, and in this pandemic, we have been shifting our model to do that more. People are starting to look at libraries as community gathering spaces, as opposed to buildings that just house books.
While there is a natural bereavement about leaving parts of that old life behind, this new model isn’t just about 2020.
“The world is being redrawn before us, and we are a part of that history.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]