The Media School

Monroe County Public Library ‘physically closed but virtually open’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

April 28th, 2020 by
Photograph by Livia King

The Monroe County Public Library officially closed on March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Marilyn Wood, the director of the library, says the decision came easily to the leadership team when local schools closed. The closure also would ensure the safety of the Monroe County community, due to the fact that over 2,000 individuals visited the library each day.

Sara Plotkin, a former student teacher at Bloomington’s University Elementary School, said the Monroe County Public Library closure due to the coronavirus pandemic worries her. She thinks it will intensify disparities between her students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The library is such a great resource for all students to extend their learning beyond the classroom,” she said. “With the lack of resources available due to COVID-19 at school and at the library, I worry that students who relied on the library will begin to fall further behind, only widening existing learning gaps.”

Plotkin’s students are among the 2,000 individuals who patronize the building each day. As social distancing became a national priority, the library closed on March 13. This was followed by many new initiatives put into place to avoid interrupting the library’s community impact.

According to the official website of the state of Indiana, from the beginning of March to the day the library closed, the number of COVID-19 cases in Indiana rose from zero to 15.

The facility’s eLibrary on its website is the first initiative the leadership team implemented.

Library Director Marilyn Wood, said the eLibrary resource includes access to anything a Bloomington resident would need from the physical library, including music, movies, eBooks and audiobooks.

“If you want a book, we’ve got it. If you want to watch a movie, we’ve got it,” she said. “Pretty soon if you have a reference question we are going to have a reference staff ready to answer your questions.”

Plotkin said the eLibrary has been a beneficial resource to her, her students and their families.

“The physical library being closed has many downsides, but I am so grateful that in a way, it is still open,” she said. “I know the access to online books has been beneficial to me, and my students love story time.”

The library continues to issue cards for new patrons. Individuals simply call the library or send an email, and a card is provided to them to access the eLibrary’s virtual materials.

Photograph courtesy of Alex Deryn

Following the library closure, only the leadership team continues to work, doing so remotely. However, the rest of the staff continues to be paid. According to Wood, they remain eager, offering to help in any ways they can.

Wood said in addition to all materials still being available via electronic checkout, the library’s Wi-Fi services are available to the public in a new way as well. Wi-Fi is now available in the building’s parking lot.

“We never talked about having Wi-Fi in our parking lot before, now we do,” she said. “A lot of people use the library specifically to get access to Wi-Fi.”

Some have phones and other devices, but they need the library to access internet, said Wood. As for kids, new online learning mechanisms being implemented in schools makes Wi-Fi more crucial for these age groups than ever.

This is especially true for kids who have to do e-learning but don’t have internet at home, Wood said.

“This may be their only way of getting it,” she said.

The library’s leadership team continues to work remotely, implementing Zoom meetings. The rest of the library staff is still receiving pay, but there is no essential need for them to still work at this time.

“They are very eager, and watching, and want to help any way they can,” said Wood.

Wood said that not only kids, but teens and adults in the Monroe County area are being impacted by the library closure as well.

“If you want a book, we’ve got it. If you want to watch a movie, we’ve got it.” – Marilyn Wood, Director, Monroe County Public Library

“Teens, we had a space for them,” she said. “One of the things that’s important for us to remember right now is that not every kid has a safe home. We provided that for them.”

Wood said many of her colleagues worry that Monroe County residents will stop coming to the library post-pandemic, because they will adapt to online materials. However, she is confident this will not be the case.

“It is not true, people will return to the library,” she said. “We just have to ensure that they feel like they’re safe there.”

The recent community responses cement Wood’s beliefs of the impact of the library on the Bloomington community.

“We hear from a lot of adults who say, ‘Wow we love the library, I am so sad you are closed, but I love that you have these things available online, and keep doing what you’re doing,’” she said. “It’s touching a lot of people.”