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Bookend: Remote and Ready

Much has changed since Chicago Ridge (Ill.) Public Library (CRPL) closed its doors March 16—but not the assistance the library strives to provide for the village’s 14,000 residents.

Director Dana Wishnick’s first priority was setting up the phone system to forward calls to staffers working from home: “We have about 20% of our community that doesn’t have access to computers or internet connections, and we really wanted to be able to serve them during this time.”

To let users know that staffers were standing by, CRPL advertised its remote-reference services not only on social media, but also via postcards mailed out to every household in Chicago Ridge—an idea, Wishnick says, that went from concept to printer within 48 hours.

The library immediately felt the value of its presence. “Everyone was in panic mode when [the pandemic] first started, so I was getting a lot of ‘I lost my job, what do I do?’ questions,” says Eva Baggili, adult reference associate. She has so far assisted with state unemployment and nutrition-assistance program applications, done research for patrons who have lost their health insurance, and answered questions about stimulus-package checks—often in Arabic.

CRPL has also brought programs online—such as virtual storytimes, face-mask sewing tutorials, and live cooking demonstrations—and has seen an uptick in engagement for its efforts.

“Our patrons definitely miss us. They call to ask when we’re opening,” says Baggili. “They just really want to come in and get back to normal and see us again.”

As for that tricky Zoom screenshot staffers managed to pull off? “It took us two days,” laughs Wishnick.

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