OPINION: It’s time to learn how to love your libraries differently

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Hailey Stessman
OPINION EDITOR

Now is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with the online and digital resources your libraries offer as alternatives to physically using a library’s collection and space. Photo courtesy of pexels.com

It was not until my time in quarantine that I realized how much I missed Criss Library on campus.

Did I miss the soft chatter from the library’s cafe or the complete and utter silence on the third floor? Or did I miss my favorite spot to study, a little corner on the third floor tucked away amongst the bookshelves? As I have reminisced on the long hours I spent within the comforts of Criss Library, I realized how much the library has shaped me as a student. Not only has it offered me a space to lose myself in my studies with little to no distraction, but it has provided me with accessible resources for research, papers and personal projects. If it wasn’t for Criss Library, I feel as though my college experience would not be the same.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that everyone’s college experience from now on will cease to be the same. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise daily, campuses have been adjusting the structure of their services and class procedures to ensure the safety and health of their students and faculty. One area that has been affected tremendously, in both public and academic settings, is the library. Libraries are a high-contact environment where items and materials are touched on the daily and circulated among various surroundings. From its original location on the shelf, a single book could fall into the hands of a countless number of individuals, including any student and librarian checking out items at the front desk.

Before the emergence of COVID-19, libraries were a heavily trafficked hub for community outreach, academic and technological guidance and a safe space that fostered the love for reading and learning. According to a study done by the Institute of Library and Museum Services, there were 1.39 billion visits to public libraries, or 4.48 visits per person, in 2015. Libraries are an essential and fundamental public service that brings communities together and fulfills the needs of patrons even beyond academic tasks. On the surface, many might assume that a library’s sole purpose is to offer a collection of books for the public’s use. But when looking deeper into the purpose and structure of libraries, one can see that their services help foster inclusive connections within the community that support households regardless of socio-economic status by offering access to free WiFi and internet and assisting those who need guidance on federal or state forms. Especially at Criss Library, the goal is to be a judgement free and welcoming public space where anyone can receive the information and advice that they need from trusted and experienced individuals.

As businesses and stores slowly begin to open their doors again, libraries across the country have been learning how to adapt to living in a pandemic world while continuing to offer services to the public in an accessible and efficient manner. In response to COVID-19, library staff members are committed to wearing masks and other protective gear, disinfecting surfaces multiple times throughout the day, limiting direct contact with patrons and returned items and offering services in a digital format. As someone who works at a local library, the staff members and I have had to learn how to provide library services in a way that is still inclusive, accessible and risk-free. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see everything libraries are doing behind the front desk when using their services.

Before you rush to the library once classes start, remember the dedication and hard work that is being put forth by librarians to keep you safe and healthy during this time. While you may not directly see their efforts, know that every day they are learning and changing to make sure you receive the best possible service that can be achieved currently. And so I ask: please be kind to the librarians on campus or in your community. I know you may be missing the comforts of the library as much as I am, but consider utilizing their digital resources and services to protect those who are working hard daily. Try to see if you can access or check out eBooks and audiobooks in replacement of physical copies to limit the amount of contact an item receives. If you decide to study within their spaces, follow their mask requirements and leave your space clean before you leave.

It is our responsibility as patrons and students to treat our libraries with the same level of respect that they give to us.

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