By Julie Walker, state librarian for Georgia
As a new year begins, we look forward with hope to new opportunities and ways to serve our Georgia communities in 2021. I’m so proud of our library staff across the state, who, even while libraries were closed, found ways to help patrons in need of books, internet access, and more. Their innovation inspires me every day.
I’m pleased to share some of the ways that Georgia’s 411 public libraries are stepping up during COVID-19.
Getting digital learners and workers what they needed, fast
In spring 2020, Georgia Public Library Service met the urgent needs of students learning remotely. We purchased laptops on behalf of our libraries and assisted them in making connections to K-12 and college students who needed them. Because Georgia Public Library Service is located within the University System of Georgia, we coordinated with all 26 campus locations to quickly give students without a device the tools they needed to finish their semester.
We heard from college students, workers, and parents with young children who were grateful for being able to borrow devices to complete their work.
Additionally, libraries provide a host of online resources to help students of all ages, including the free practice tests and lessons in Learning Express and language learning in Mango Languages. Our PINES library card serves more than 300 libraries across Georgia, and this fall, we launched a PINES ecard that gives you an easy way to register for all digital resources offered at your local library, including GALILEO and the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative.
We partnered with Grow with Google to connect jobseekers and small businesses with library resources to build digital skills and grow businesses online. Connectivity offered by libraries provided a lifeline to Georgians in applying for jobs or government services during this particularly difficult time.
Providing internet to those without access
Many people who live in Georgia’s rural areas lack basic internet access, which became an even bigger problem during times of distance learning and business shutdowns. This spring, there were many times when our library parking lots were full of vehicles – workers, families, and students logging on to the free internet that all of our public libraries continue to provide outside their buildings. We have seen record internet usage across Georgia libraries in 2020.
Our public libraries have played such an essential role in providing access as Georgians coped with the consequences of COVID-19.
We also are funding bigger projects using TV white space and some Wi-Fi extenders, so libraries could share their free Wi-Fi out into more public areas like parks and community centers.
Currently, we are granting funds to our public libraries to boost their technology services for things like lending internet hotspots or tech-to-go packages to patrons. You can read more about our efforts here.
Libraries help students keep reading
Summer reading is such an important tool to keep kids learning when school is out. In 2020, our libraries made the switch to virtual summer reading programs. Librarians were able to create vibrant, well-attended online programs. Many libraries continue to use Beanstack year round for reading programs in partnership with local schools. Additionally, we continue to provide the eRead Kids digital library, which features more than 20,000 electronic and audiobooks for kids in pre-K to fourth grade. It is freely available through all public libraries in the state.
Our libraries have done an exceptional job pivoting to an entirely new service model in 2020. Going far beyond curbside service and virtual programming, they have stayed in touch and in tune with their individual communities to provide whatever is needed, from food to connectivity to entertainment to educational support, all the while striving to keep everyone safe and well. Libraries have built and strengthened community partnerships, as people continue to depend on libraries for much more than books.
In 2020, we’ve learned that, more than ever, libraries are essential. I look back with gratitude to all of our library patrons, staff, friends, and funders who helped sustain us. It’s because of you that our libraries can transform lives and communities.
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