American intellectual Mason Cooley famously said, “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
A worldwide pandemic certainly has forced many of us to stay “where we are” for the past 10 months.
And for some, all of that time spent at home over the past year has translated into more time for reading — so that at least through books, we could travel outside of our own four walls.
Megan Tarbett, who has been director of the Putnam County Library for almost six years, knows the transporting power of books. And over the past 10 months, she and her staff have worked tirelessly to share that power with their fellow community members.
“We have been operating with modified services and abbreviated hours since last spring due to COVID-19,” Tarbett states. “Yet we have found countless ways to still place books and other resources into the hands of our patrons, especially through our updated digital libraries and video programming.”
Contactless pickup was introduced because of COVID-19 but will remain an ongoing service. It enables patrons to select books online or over the phone and pick them up without coming into contact with anyone.
Story times have been conducted on Facebook Live so that young children can still watch their favorite children’s librarians read and sing, without the risk of in-person gatherings (spring story times are scheduled to begin Feb. 9 online).
Facebook Live has also the been the medium for Putnam County Library to share original video series. For example, the Tuesday Tidbits series, which premiered this month, features brief 10-minute videos on seasonal subjects.
“Tuesday Tidbits is geared towards our adult patrons,” Tarbett said. “It covers practical topics like where to donate the items from your January cleaning purge, how to winterize your home and property, and how to get your office or home office set up for comfort and efficiency.”
She adds, “If you can’t catch these videos live, you can view them later by accessing the Library’s video library on Facebook.”
Another method by which the library has encouraged the community to find its escape through reading is the annual Reading Scavenger Hunt, which commenced this month.
“The Reading Scavenger Hunt can be found online or can be picked up at any of our branches,” Tarbett says. “Simply read books that meet the various criteria. All ages are welcome to participate. When you have finished, return the card to your branch for a button celebrating your accomplishment.”
Tarbett has found yet another way to give local readers an escape through books: Dial-a-Story.
“In late November we started a program called Dial-a-Story,” she says. “Dial-a-Story is a telephone-based program. You call a toll-free number (800-576-9890) and select from a menu of stories to hear.
“The stories are selected by myself and the youth services staff at the Main Library, and currently the three of us are also doing the recording. I do the bulk of the reading because it’s something I really enjoy and because I don’t get to do many of the video or in-person storytimes … and I miss it!”
At the beginning of each month, Tarbett and her staff upload new story selections to the Dial-a-Story menu, and mid-month, they add a few more.
Currently, all of the selections on Dial-a-Story are young children’s picture books such as “A Loud Winter’s Nap” and “Bear Can’t Sleep.” Over time, selections for older children through adult will be added, too, including chapters from chapter books and short stories.
“Be sure to call back often,” Tarbett urges, “because more stories will be added and more readers will be included. You never know when a familiar voice from around the county will have a story to share!”
She adds, “The possibilities for what we can offer through this service are truly endless.”
Dial-a-Story is part of a service called Stories In the Cloud. Other library systems in West Virginia besides Putnam County are using the program as well.
“So far it has been a popular program and we would like to continue it into the future,” Tarbett says. “One thing I would like to point out about Dial-a-Story is that is a phone-based service, so the volume will vary due to your device or reception. Patrons are finding that if they want to play the story to a group, it is best to put it on speaker-phone and use a blue-tooth speaker for added volume.”
Tarbett believes that Dial-a-Story resolves some of the challenges that community members have faced this past year because of increased screen time.
“Dial-a-Story solves several problems,” Tarbett said. “Screen and video fatigue are a real concern with so much of our work, school, and entertainment taking place online. This service can give your eyes a break while your ears listen.”
Dial-a-Story also provides access to patrons who do not have access to the internet or who have limited broadband.
“We wanted to add a program that you could access from home, or anywhere, that didn’t require the internet,” Tarbett said.