Library recovers after COVID-19

Benny Westcott

After the COVID-19 mask mandate was lifted last month, the Sweet Home Public Library returned to business as usual. 

“Even the next day, we definitely saw a lot more people coming in, people that hadn’t been in since early 2020,” Library Director Megan Dazey said. 

But don’t be surprised if a few things are different. Maybe even larger, better and in greater abundance, with more possible changes afoot. 

For one, the library’s hours have expanded slightly. Patrons can now visit between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, an improvement from the pandemic-era hours of noon to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, however, maintain the same noon-to-4 p.m. schedule. 

Also, since her August 2021 arrival, Dazey and her staff have been refreshing the library’s collections following a city budget freeze that restricted purchasing during the pandemic. New titles have been added and nonfiction selections have grown, becoming more up to date. 

“We have some new gardening and cooking books, and a lot of new history and biographies for all ages,” Dazey said. “We’ve been getting new stuff out on the shelves, and new topics that have come out in the last five years or so, that we may not have had anything about before. We’ve been able to purchase things with more relevance to today’s users. (The focus is on) making the collection here more relevant to the population here (in Sweet Home).” 

New puzzles and games are available, and more than 100 graphic novels for teens are coming. That particular audience enjoys more comfortable seating in its section. For the more audiovisual-inclined, the library’s DVD collection has more than doubled over the last year. 

“Especially now that Thriftway no longer rents out DVDs, you can now get them from us, and TV shows as well,” Dazey said. “It’s one of the top reasons that people are coming in. We’re not just books anymore.” 

There have been changes on the electronic front as well. Dazey’s seen many readers checking out e-books or seeking help with that process. The library’s online footprint has grown with an increased Facebook presence (https://bit.ly/3vFD5iu) and an Instagram account, @sweethomepubliclibrary. When a stuffed Darth Vader became an adopted mascot at the end of January, its own social media presence became prominent. 

“He’s always up to nefarious things online, does lots of stuff around the library, and gets into the crafts that we hand out,” Dazey said. 

Since last fall, the library’s recorded 20% increases every month in visitors and circulation. “At any time,” Dazey said, “we have a good selection of our collection actually checked out.” 

Also on the rise: registrations. 

“We’re seeing probably three to four people every day coming in for a new library card, as opposed to previously when we were seeing one or two a week,” she said, adding that this applies to both longtime residents and fresh arrivals. “We had one family come in, who had just bought property and hadn’t even started building their house yet, who were already planning to get a library card.” 

Nevertheless, staff plans to conduct tours for high school students to encourage their patronage. 

“We want to get them to know their library,” Dazey said. “We’re not that far from the high school. And I’ve heard a lot of students not even knowing that we are here.” 

Yet she’s noticed more teenagers amid the shelves over the last month or so, a phenomenon she attributes to the increase in graphic novels. 

For an even younger demographic, the library recently launched a free 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, whose participants need neither a library card nor a city address. “This is just to encourage early literacy and get students better prepared for kindergarten programs,” Dazey said. 

It also recently hosted Community Reads, which saw, according to Dazey, a “really good turnout.” The group read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass.” Another event is planned for August. 

“It’s good to have adults have a chance to get out and talk to people, especially now that COVID’s pretty much over for most people,” Dazey said. 

Starting in June, the library will host twice-monthly youth activities at Sankey Park as part of iREAD’s summer reading program, “Read Beyond the Beaten Path.” More activities for teens and adults will be added this year, with details to be announced. 

“We just want to get everybody in the community out doing things and reading, and also getting to know their community as part of this,” Dazey said.

“We’re going to focus mostly on doing stuff outside, visiting parks – national, state and city – and I think that also works with getting a lot of people out and about. Our building doesn’t necessarily have that much space, so having Sankey Park so close is a wonderful addition to kind of extend the library outside of the building walls and do stuff out there.” 

Regarding that space, the Sweet Home City Council and the Library Advisory Board have been discussing a new building to replace the current structure, which is more than 50 years old. A new location is also under consideration. 

“We really do need a new library building,” Dazey said. “We need the space. One thing that people have been wanting is space to meet, for groups or individuals. And we really need a space for the kids for storytime.

Especially on rainy days, it’s really nice to have an indoor place where the kids can come and do activities. Right now, if there’s three or four kids in our kids area, it seems incredibly full.” 

She said that a ukulele group has to use the teen space, and since it meets after school, it can often prevent teens from accessing it. 

Dazey also worried about a leaking roof and a recent ant issue that may become an ongoing problem. Then there’s the handicapped bathroom with no automatic door. 

“Rather than let (the building) deteriorate even more and sink more money into doing minor fixes, it would be better to invest that money into a new building and to really make that building a showplace for the entire community,” she said. “I would love to continue to be toward this end of downtown and off of Long or Main Street. We want a place that’s still very walkable from all of the schools and for a majority of the community as well. 

“We want someplace that’s very visible, so we don’t have people saying, ‘I didn’t know that Sweet Home had a library.’ Some place on Main Street would be wonderful, because you would see where the library is just driving through, and that this community cares about reading and libraries because they put the library in such a prominent space.” 

With a timeline for a new building unclear and no formal votes on the matter yet taken by city council, the library continues to hum along with three full- and four part-time employees, what Dazey considers a good staff level. 

“We have a very dedicated staff that really likes working here and helping people in the community,” she said.

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