Libraries adapt, hope for ‘normal’ to return

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published April 29, 2021

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FRASER — One year provides a lot of time for reflection.

On March 24, about the one-year anniversary since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Macomb County, staffers from the Fraser Public Library discussed how their professional lives were altered and how they continue to deal with something that just won’t go away.

The most glaring effect was the lack of an in-person presence, with quarantining taking place to adhere to a litany of safety measures. It changed the way employees operated.

“Work suddenly became 24-7 and there was no off switch,” said Library Director Lorena McDowell. “It was tiring at first, but it was a chance for us to change things up a bit at the library and it also gave us a sense of being necessary to the community.”

She referenced abrupt changes in safety regulations that required her and her staff to make accommodations, often in a matter of hours.

“We based our rules for the library on the knowledge that was coming out scientifically,” she said. “I made sure to involve staff when making decisions for the library because we needed to work together to determine what would make them and the patrons feel safe when at the library.”

Decisions had to be made quickly and efficiently. As programming and youth services librarian Kristen Getzin iterated, that involved immediately canceling all programming — including the library’s popular summer reading club.

Getzin said she and others did what they could with their resources, adapting programming to acclimate to all-virtual settings. She admitted that some of the reading club planning was chaotic and completed at the last minute.

“It’s been a bummer this last year seeing our children’s room empty, aside from the brief moments kids are here to grab books and then leave,” said programming assistant Carly Blocki. “Losing traditional programming, I’ve had to learn how to make personal connections with our patrons digitally through Facebook Live story times and phone calls.”

Getzin added that she has “learned more about video programming and doing programs online” than she ever personally expected. However, she hopes the summer program returns to the days of old, albeit in an outdoor atmosphere that adheres to social distancing guidelines.

Libraries were stuck in a state of limbo, said librarian Doug Quick, referencing how he and four others were sent to work from home in March 2020 and weren’t sure how effective they could be at their jobs.

But utilizing digital forms of communication and access to library patrons made the impact a little less harsh.

“After implementing new services and ways of communication, I was able to help patrons again and after that I knew we were going to be OK,” Quick said.

Longtime librarian Jackie Wisswell said she is looking forward to a normal world again, “whatever normal is.”

“There’s a lot of patrons that I have got to know with me being here as long as I have, and it’s just nice to have them come in and chat for a while before leaving with their checkouts,” she said. “It’s been hard going without that, but hopefully it’s not too far away.”

The library is currently open for curbside pickups, as well as limited capacity browsing and computer use. McDowell said the challenge is to appease those who want to go inside the library while still doing enough to balance the safety side of things.

“In some ways this last year has made our eyes more aware of ways we can serve our community,” McDowell said. “We had a lot of people still wanting to visit the library in person, and right now it’s figuring out how (to) expand what we offer people with that knowledge in mind.”

The Fraser Public Library is located at 16330 14 Mile Road.