Mercer Island Library’s doors still aren’t open to the community in the traditional sense, but its employees are offering residents a multitude of virtual ways to connect with each other, host presentations on vital topics and continue on their learning paths during the pandemic.
“One of the advantages, actually, of the pandemic situation is the online environment because we can handle a huge capacity of people attending programs and events. We can also, of course, give access to people all over the world, literally, but definitely all over the county,” said Carrie Bowman, the Mercer Island Library’s teen services librarian.
Bowman, who works with students, teachers and parents in the community, said the King County Library System (KCLS) hasn’t slowed down on the community events front. There’s an abundance of local and regional events on tap, including a recent series on Asian American history that was organized and presented by Mercer Island High School students in the Education Coalition of Asian American Representation (ECAAR).
On April 29, the ECAAR will collaborate with Islander Middle Schoolers from the JUST Students group for an interactive and educational experience about bias, specifically toward Asian Americans. The presentation will take place from 7-8 p.m. and people can sign up to attend at https://www.facebook.com/MercerIslandLibrary/.
“Understanding Anti-Asian Hate: A Panel Discussion” will take place from 3-4:15 p.m. on May 8 and will feature moderator Ron Chew, a local author and community organizer. To sign up for the event, sponsored by the KCLS Civics-Information Group, visit https://kcls.bibliocommons.com/events/60784efd6fb99b2e00985933.
Mercer Island and other King County libraries offer curbside service by appointment for book pickups that customers place holds for online or by phone. About a dozen libraries — but not Mercer Island — are welcoming residents indoors to browse the collections and use computers.
A KCLS blog article notes that they “wanted to select libraries in some of our rural communities, where the need for public computer access is especially high.” The openings are “in strict accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines for mask-wearing, social distancing, and capacity limits.”
Bowman said they’re not sure when the Mercer Island Library will reopen to the public as the county moves through phases.
What Mercer Island Library does offer requires copious staffers to keep the curbside service elements rolling and to help with the technical and moderator aspects of the virtual programming.
Along with the aforementioned presentations, the library continues to offer Study Zone tutoring, Talk Time for kids and adults who are learning English, Story Time, math clubs, book clubs, author visits, cooking programs (in English and Spanish), and Medicare and associated programming for seniors.
This year has been difficult with an ever-changing landscape, but Bowman feels the online conversations remain impactful and engaging. The community connections she’s built up over the years have continued throughout the pandemic.
“People are so tired of being cooped up. I think people are easily thrilled by even something like curbside service. People want to see other people and they want to see the library staff that they have missed for a year,” Bowman said.
In fact, Bowman said she’s reaching more people than ever in the remote world, including other librarians from all over the county who are using their creativity while collaborating to present events.
“That’s really exciting because that’s what the library’s all about: We’re supposed to be providing access to a huge variety of individuals, cultures and I really think we’re doing that,” she said.