Thursday April 01, 2021

Cabarrus County Library System entering next phase of service

As Cabarrus County Public Library branches return to pre-pandemic operating hours on April 5, staff is looking back at the challenges – and innovations – of the last 12 months with excitement for the future.

March 2020: Library branches, along with many other Cabarrus County facilities, closed their doors to the public and transitioned to a remote workforce. At that point, library staff had to face the indefinite loss of more than 50 regular in-person programs while still working to serve the community.

Those first days proved difficult, said Library System Director Emery Ortiz. “Our staff is very committed to serving the public—they love having those interactions with people,” she said. “Not knowing when that would happen again was a real challenge. We missed our patrons.”

After getting beyond the unknown, day-to-day nature of those first weeks, it became clear the library system would have to change course to continue meeting the important goal of accessibility.

How did they do it? Ingenuity and hard work.

From story times to art education programs to book clubs and more, staff moved programs online, sharing them on Facebook and Instagram @CabarrusCountyLibrary. Those programs found success, and “increased our audience and allowed us to talk to new people and try new things,” Ortiz said.

And while they filled the gap in the moment, the programs also set a course for the future.

“The skills we learned and the tools we found are going to help us expand what we were already doing,” said Children’s Librarian Amanda Wilkerson, who helped develop the format – and often hosted – the story time videos. “It will allow us to add extra components and maybe reach people who might not be able to get here. It will help us serve the community better overall.

“We’re kind of hitting a reset button, and we can decide what we want programming to look like going forward, so it gives us kind of a fresh start,” Wilkerson added. “We’re really excited to see what the next phase is going to look like for us.”

Here’s a timeline of Cabarrus County Public Library initiatives during the pandemic:

Virtual programs – Storytimes and art programs became a weekly occurrence as the Library transitioned to virtual-only services. Staff members also created online book clubs to replace the in-person clubs. These types of programs will become more frequent as officials will unveil additional methods of digital access soon.

Curbside service – As North Carolina moved towards Phase 2 of its COVID-19 restriction plan, the Library began offering curbside pickup for patrons. With contact-free curbside services, patrons were able to access materials like books, DVDs and Launchpad tablets while maintaining safe social distancing guidelines.

Beanstack and the Virtual Summer Reading program – Summer reading went virtual as the Library showcased its new Beanstack reading app (cabarruscounty.beanstack.org). More than 1,000 signed up for the virtual summer program. In 2021, the Library will host additional virtual reading campaigns like the NC Science Festival Reading Challenge and Pages for Pantries. The addition of Beanstack opened new avenues for the library, according to Children’s Librarian Amanda Wilkerson. In addition to the ongoing reading challenges, the app provides a way to gauge community reading. Since it began almost a year ago, users have logged more than one million reading minutes. “That’s huge,” Wilkerson said. “We were never able to track the amount of minutes read before. It’s nice to be able to see that larger picture.”

Fine-free policy – In August, the Library eliminated overdue fines for checked out materials as a way to encourage more patrons to utilize Library resources as a means of self-enhancement enrichment.

Limited hours return – With capacity limits, service restrictions, and added safety measures in place, the Library welcomed patrons for in-person browsing in October as North Carolina transitioned to phase 3 of COVID-19 protocols.

Switching to Libby – November saw yet another change for the Library, as their eBooks, eAudiobooks and digital magazines found a new home in the Libby by Overdrive app (cabconc.overdrive.com). Patrons expressed support and excitement for the switch to a more accessible platform. Libby joins Hoopla (hoopladigital.com) as another user-friendly eResource for digital lending provided by the Library.

Hours expand – The Midland branch extended its operating schedule from a three- to four-day week with additional hours for public browsing. Libraries will continue offering curbside service for the time being. Services that meet safety protocols—including computer use and browsing and material checkout—will also be offered within the facilities.

Library facilities and curbside services are open during the following hours:

Concord, Harrisburg and Kannapolis

Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Mt. Pleasant

Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Midland

Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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