Parker librarian finds ways to engage community safely

Parker Public Librarian Kathy Rand stands next to just a few of the books that make up the collection at the library. Besides books to read, there are so many more things that Rand and her staff do at the library. photo/Dawn Rye

Julia Johnson | Staff Intern

Walk into the Parker library any day of the week pre-pandemic and you may find some sort of in-house event going on. 

Whether it is a coffee club for seniors who wanted to browse books, socialize and drink cups of coffee during the day, or the summer reading challenge for kids to create projects and play various games encouraging them to read, librarian Kathy Rand enjoyed hosting events for the Parker community. 

All of this came to a sudden halt in early March when the pandemic first hit, forcing the library to temporarily shut down. 

Not one to be discouraged —even when all of her staff were sent home— Rand said she quickly began doing curbside pickup for the readers she knew would still want books. 

From March 16 through June 1, Rand handed patrons their requested books in bags at the front door of the library. Through heavy advertising, she made sure everyone in the community knew she was still there working; even going as far as calling the regular patrons who hadn’t made book requests in a while.

The state library in Pierre also helped a lot in keeping the library functioning, especially in guiding the inexperienced local libraries on how to properly sanitize, do curbside pickup, quarantine their books and other safety adjustments. 

“I can’t say enough about how much they want to support the libraries during this time,” said Rand. 

At a time when everyone had to stop their regular lives, many people turned to reading. Rand said, “during curbside service, I checked out just as many, if not more books than if we were open.” She made sure that getting patrons their books was still a top priority.

Before the pandemic started, Rand began a program called ‘Rides for Readers’, where the library teamed up with local public transit to get books to patrons without easy access to transportation. Twice a month, the bus would pick up patrons, take them to the library, then take them back home again. 

Although Rand had to stop ‘Rides for Readers’, she delivered—and still delivers— books to people across the community through the transit. Readers don’t have to pay anything, all they do is call or email the library their requests, and the public transit delivers books to their individual homes. Then in a couple weeks, they put the books on the bus and send them back to Rand, where she takes them and quarantines them until they’re safe for re-entering the library’s ebb and flow. 

Beyond getting the books safely to Parker residents, Rand and her team came up with various ways to continue encouraging readers to have fun. 

Rand said adjusting the summer reading challenge was one of the most difficult, but ultimately one of the most successful parts of the adjustment process. Kids couldn’t come to the community building to do the big kick off event with a hot dog supper and an entertainer, various in-house craft events or a pizza party at the end of the summer. Nevertheless, the Parker library still encouraged kids to participate with take-and-make kits —such as “Jack and the Beanstalk”, where library workers gave potted soil and beans to kids to let them watch the beans grow— sac lunches and small treats for kids who participated, reading rewards or sending in photos.

Families involved with the program gave an overwhelming amount of support and feedback throughout the summer. Many families sent in pictures of their kids proudly showing their take and make projects, their scavenger searches around the town and I-spy games in the library. 

This Christmas, where the regular Hometown Christmas parade, bingo and carnival was canceled, the library still did their annual Christmas storytime— only online. 

Rand said the virtual Christmas reading was so successful, she plans on continuing virtual readings throughout the pandemic, maybe even beyond. 

At the end of the day, the library staff closes 30 minutes early to clean. Little adjustments like this, as well as big adjustments like to Parker’s hometown Christmas, took a team of individuals dedicated to serving their community through a love of books. 

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