When the Knit Wits get together these days to socialize and work on their ongoing knitting and crochet projects, it’s not in their familiar meeting room at the Niles-Maine District Library, but via video conference.
“It’s not like in person, but because they can see each other, it’s like a sense of normalcy for them,” said Bernadetta Koryciarz, the library’s digital services associate who leads the group. “They have something to put on the schedule. It’s now every Monday and they can’t wait to be there.
The rally is one of many in-person events suburban libraries are trying to continue virtually while their buildings are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For library directors, the continuation of programs helps the library maintain its connection with the public.
Instead of being on the floor of the children’s department, story hours take place on computer screens. The same goes for book talks, craft classes for teens and kids, games, writers’ groups, quiz nights, and even yoga classes.
Joan McGee, a Sun and Moon Yoga instructor at Park Ridge who leads chair yoga at the Park Ridge and Niles libraries, said attendees of her virtual sessions have expressed gratitude for being able to continue their regular exercise — even if their instructor is in front of a computer screen.
“They can just close their eyes and pretend they’re in the frame that we’re so used to,” McGee said. “It’s not where you are physically; it’s where you are inside that counts.
McGee said the shift to online classes can open up the yoga experience to those who might not have been able to easily leave their homes before the pandemic, due to physical limitations or a lack of transportation. Chair yoga is especially popular with older adults, McGee said, and the sign-up list for an upcoming Park Ridge Public Library virtual session showed several newcomers.
“There are so many wonderful things you can do online that you can’t physically do in person,” she said. “It invites people who wouldn’t normally be able to get there.”
Bringing library activities online has also opened the door to some creative adaptations.
When Jeffrey Ray, Circulation Services Manager at the Morton Grove Public Library, hosts a virtual storytime on FaceBook Live every Monday morning, he does so with his Labradoodle, Yogi, by his side.
“One of the things I wanted to do was bring some normalcy to people’s lives, especially kids,” Ray said. “If I was a kid back then, I’d probably freak out a bit. And what’s better than having a cute puppy next to someone while they’re reading about puppies?”
Ray said he’s trying to relate the book he’s reading to his dog. He encourages children who participate in the house to share stories in the comments section of fun things their own dogs have done. Sometimes Ray even dresses Yogi in tank tops or t-shirts.
“I tried to put hats on him, but he got right straight away,” Ray said.
Hoping to entertain young adults at home, Claire Griebler, Teen Services Librarian at the Park Ridge Public Library, hosted a TikTok challenge, hired a Dungeons and Dragons expert to virtually teach kids the game and scheduled virtual craft classes, one of which taught teens how to make a tote bag out of a t-shirt.
“We’re really thinking about how to set up programs with materials and supplies that kids already have at home,” Griebler said. “We ask teenagers what kind of crafts they want to do. We want them to lead the programming as much as possible.
Koryciarz, who also runs a Polish story hour at the Niles-Maine Library and moved it to Zoom, continues to give kids an art project to work on as part of the event, but this time using materials that they already have at home.
“It was so adorable to see the kids and how cute they were,” she said. “They were showing me their toys and they wanted to talk about everything.”
Christie Robinson, senior communications strategist for Skokie Public Library, said at least one in-person presentation was edited and adapted for posting online.
“We planned for a local historian to do an event about mysterious things that happened in Chicago. We reopened that and arranged for him to do a health scare in the story for ‘Mysterious Chicago,'” she said.
In addition to virtual programs, libraries are using their websites to promote online resources in an age when physical materials cannot be borrowed.
Lincolnwood Public Library director Josephine Tucci said more e-books and audiobooks were being added to the library’s Hoopla app due to increased demand since the building closed. A donation from Friends of the Library has also enabled the library to increase the number of Hoopla “checkouts” from eight to 12 per month per cardholder, Tucci said.
A library asks its community to read the same book, then schedules a series of online events to go along with it. The Eisenhower Library, which serves Norridge and Harwood Heights, asks patrons to read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and for readers aged 9 and under, ‘The Frog and the Toad Are Friends’. Downloads of both books are available on his website.
The library is hosting a virtual “Make Your Own Terrarium” event on April 29 and an online family movie night on April 30.
Some libraries, like Morton Grove and Lincolnwood, provide temporary library cards to residents who don’t already have one so they can access materials and resources online.
Keeping in touch with library users has also been an initiative of many libraries. Park Ridge Library staff and volunteers called many older patrons to contact them, see if they needed anything and even help them access e-books, said library manager Heidi Smith.
Links to e-mail and live chats on the home pages of various libraries also allow patrons to contact a librarian with any questions.
“We want people to understand that we’re still here and we want to serve everyone in the community,” said Pam Leffler, director of the Morton Grove Library.