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Would you like a superpower? Sign up for a library card at one of the 29 Timberland Regional Library (TRL) locations. You will have VIP access to lots of books, periodicals, DVDs, and CDs, both in print and through the internet. Libraries also offer engaging activities, internet access and help with many of life’s challenges. Serving Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, TRL took advantage of the challenges through the COVID-19 pandemic to increase content and improve services for both library-goers and employees.

a person sitting at a table inside a Timberland Regional Library
The library can be a quiet place to study, do research, learn a new skill or simply read. Access to the Timberland Regional Library system is free. Photo courtesy: Timberland Regional Libraries

TRL has spent time since COVID arrived to adapt, update and optimize services. “We had to pivot quickly,” recalls TRL Content and Access Director Andrea Heisel. “Branches were closed and people could not come in.” Library staff reported fielding thousands of calls and emails with people wondering how to return books and check out materials.

Staying in touch with people was critically important. “How can we be more flexible?” was the question posed by Deputy Director Kendra Jones. The library worked deliberately to retain staff and avoid lay-offs. Employees who needed them were loaned laptops or Chromebooks to use for remote work. “We found people worked well remotely,” she says. Social media efforts were increased. Now it’s possible to chat in real time with a librarian online.

Digital Materials have Increased at Library

people standing at a table outside a Timberland Regional Library checking in books during COVID
Timberland Regional Libraries made many efforts to provide services during the challenging pandemic restrictions. Some services became popular and will continue to be offered. Photo courtesy: Timberland Regional Libraries

In the early days of the pandemic all TRL branches were closed to the public. People could still access material online but could not check out physical books. The library wanted to increase materials that could be retrieved virtually. “We expanded and continue to increase our virtual collection options which include eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and streaming media,” explains Andrea. This comes at additional expense. Libraries are charged several times more than when you purchase one as an individual. Of course, the library isn’t just purchasing a few books, films, or magazines now and then, they purchase multiple copies year-round.

Timberland Regional Library Offers New and Changing Services

As the pandemic progressed, parameters for safely handing out books were developed. Many locations set up tables outside the front door so patrons could order books and then come and pick them up. “We offered curbside service,” says Kendra. It wasn’t fast food but fast fun. This low-touch, minimal contact was warmly welcomed and continues today, which is great for people who are still uncomfortable going inside of public buildings. One branch even has a drive through window that has always been popular.

people sitting on the ground outside a Timberland Regional Library using their computers
People can use Timberland Regional Library’s free Wifi inside or outside of the building. Some branches are boosting signals so patrons can stay in their cars. Photo courtesy: Timberland Regional Libraries

Before the pandemic, people could go inside and use a computer or connect their own device. Free Wi-Fi is a big deal for many people in the five counties served by TRL. The pandemic shut down access, so libraries have been working on boosting signals at some locations so that people can connect outside of the building. “We do not want to leave behind people without internet or technology,” says Andrea.  Investing in technology that does not require internet connection has also helped get audio picture books, called Vox books, and child-friendly, media-loaded tablets, called Launchpads, in the hands of parents and children. Both formats have been a big hit with families.

Kids Get Amazing Library Support

Jessica Friberg is the district manager for Youth Services & Programs. The shut-down shifted many things. “How can we offer story time?” was a significant problem that TRL wanted to address. “We want to provide cohesive, early learning to benefit families,” she shares. TRL created StorytimeTidbits on YouTube, where you’ll find a three-minute song or finger play that are accessible at any time. These remain available to watch. There were and continue to be three Zoom story times each week as well. Skilled readers read books to their internet audience, when meeting in person was not possible. These lasted from 45 minutes to an hour.

children playing inside a Timberland Regional Library
Children love visits to the library for reading and other fun activities. You can also find opportunities on the Timberland Regional Library website. Photo courtesy: Timberland Regional Libraries

“Families appreciate that,” notes Jessica. With great interest in having story times online, the library is continuing virtual programming, even adding some in Spanish.

Pandemic or not, TRL looks to find ways to connect with more families with fewer resources. Not everyone has computers and internet at home. “There are cool, low-tech options,” she adds. For younger children, there are Launchpads or preloaded tablets with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) content and related games and videos. “Kids are really liking it, not being connected to the internet,” says Andrea, adding, “Parents are comfortable, too.” You can check out an MP3 player that reads a book out loud.

During pandemic restrictions, families could get a Take and Make, a bag of supplies and instructions for art and/or science projects. It’s a way to involve the whole family. More activities like play groups and story time are now getting underway in person, but you can still get your grab-and-go. “We partner with parents and caregivers to meet their goals,” affirms Jessica. You can find out branch by branch what and when activities are available.

Visit The Library Any Time, Day or Night

Timberland Regional Library continues to work hard to improve all its many services.

A woman picking up a book outside at a Timberland Regional Library low-touch station
Timberland Regional Libraries offer low-touch take-out service for all your reading materials. Photo courtesy: Timberland Regional Libraries

There are people to help you with questions and needs whether you are in-person or connecting digitally. Read books and magazines, watch movies, listen to audiobooks, study, play with your kids, discover new activities, learn new skills, and fully utilize your superpower! Library resources are available day or night.

Tip for Getting a Popular Read or Movie

You can reserve a hard copy or e-book online with your library card. Popular books and movies often have a waiting list, but you’ll be notified when your turn comes up. Each TRL branch also has Lucky Day collections, featuring the most popular books and movies for all ages. Stop in one of our 29 branches to see if it is your lucky day!

For more information, visit the Timberland Regional Library website or head to your nearest branch.

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