BPL Expanding Online Services During COVID-19 Pandemic

As people and families remain inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many are looking for things to do. Lots of local organizations are offering at-home activities to keep people occupied, and the Boston Public Library (BPL) is no exception.

“While our buildings are closed for public service, the library is very much open,” said BPL president David Leonard. He said that the library team has been thinking about how to expand the library’s services in several different areas.

First, the BPL has increased the amount of content that is available for borrowing from its website, including e-books, movies, and audio books, as well as other resources like historical content for people to browse.

The second area relates to online services, Leonard said, which includes library programs that are typically only offered in person. “It’s been amazing for us to watch our staff, many for whom the focus was working with our patrons in person, now offering online story times, virtual book discussion groups, and running literacy classes,” he said.

The third area of expansion is related to outreach to some organizations who are “working with those most affected” by the pandemic, Leonard said, and might not have access to the internet.

“We’ve been able to arrange book care packages under our new Books for Boston program,” he said, which gets packages of books to places like Boston Health Care for the Homeless and  the new Boston Hope field hospital set up in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

“We’re putting reading material in the hands of people that are going to be cared for, he said, and “not forgetting about the importance of reaching those or are most vulnerable.”

Leonard said that one of the biggest challenges of having to work around this pandemic and still be able to offer services to residents has been getting some of the staff up to speed with using technology. “Taking a 170-year-old institution; one that was partially doing online to almost exclusively online has been a big pivot for us,” he said. “We are incredibly proud of the work the staff is doing.”

Some library services, such as some of the online programs, do not require a library card to participate. Others, like borrowing ebooks or movies, do require a card. Anyone who doesn’t

already have a Boston Library card can apply for one online, as well as renew an existing one.

You don’t even have to be a Boston resident to get one.“We offer cards to anyone who goes to school, lives, or works in Massachusetts,” Leonard explained.

“It’s been very cool to see people getting that creative and really offering something that gives parents a break,” Leonard said of the online programs for kids. He said that the BPL is looking at continuing to offer a mix of online programs and in-person programs once people are allowed to gather again, as it does offer a way for people who are unable to make an in person event to still participate.

“People these days have a mix of digital and personal, so it’s about finding the right balance and what will be the best for the months ahead,” he said.

The BPL also wants to help close the digital equality gap. “This is an opportunity to close that gap and ensure that we don’t leave people behind,” he said.

Statistics prove that people are interested in using these online services being offered. Leonard said there has been a growth in services since mid-March. “We had almost 200,000 digital checkouts since March 17,” he said, and more than 10,000 patrons have registered for new library cards.

“I think this just proves that the relevances of libraries is really unquestionable, particularly in this time,” he said. “Our librarians are still there, still working really hard, and are available to help patrons.”

Anyone with questions about library services or even tech help should email [email protected]. Visit bpl.org to learn more about online programs, getting a virtual library card, and borrowing materials.

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