Cumberland Library adapts as foot traffic slows

Cumberland Library adapts as foot traffic slows

CUMBERLAND – While fewer patrons have been passing through the doors of the Cumberland Public Library during the pandemic, staff members say one bright spot of the crisis has been being able to provide them with new services and programs.

From hosting virtual events to expanding access to technology, “We’ve been able to help patrons in new and exciting ways,” said Melissa Chiavaroli, head of reference at the Cumberland Public Library. “Our team is amazing. We’re doing our best to make as many services available as possible.”

The Cumberland Library, which is currently only open for curbside pickup, closed in mid-March and reopened in May for curbside pickup, allowing patrons to browse and use the computer in limited numbers in June. The building stayed open until just before Thanksgiving, and Assistant Director Aaron Coutu told The Breeze he’s hoping they will be more fully open again as soon as possible. Chiavaroli said patrons aren’t able to use the library in the way they are accustomed to. “It’s really hard right now. We miss being able to provide that full 100 percent in-house library experience,” she said. That said, “we feel it’s important to keep patrons and staff safe.”

The library has faced staff shortages as various people have had to quarantine due to exposure to the virus, Coutu noted. While staff members have been out, others step up to help fill in, he said.

“We want to make sure if someone is having a hard time, everyone steps in to help get them through it,” he said.

From June to November, the library was operating fairly normally but with fewer patrons since more people were staying home, Coutu said, adding that numbers fluctuated during that time.

“People could pretty much do anything except sit down and hang out,” he said.

Pre-pandemic, the library would see 15,000 to 17,000 patrons come through the doors per month, Coutu said, or approximately 500 to 600 a day.

When the building has been open during the pandemic, Coutu said they average about 210 people per day and said staff see between 80 to 100 people per day for contactless pickup, which doesn’t include people picking up craft kits to do at home.

“We are still getting a pretty good response,” he said. “People still want their materials.”

Coutu did notice an increase in patrons over the summer when outdoor programming and story times were taking place, adding that families were great about keeping their distance.

The pandemic has forced staff to provide virtual programs, which have proven successful. Coutu said staff previously explored the possibility of hosting online programming but never had a chance to work out details before the pandemic hit. “This obviously spurred us on to do just that,” he said. “We’ve gotten better at making it easily accessible.”

He said they’ve noticed that there’s some interest there, and they are looking to continue some programming virtually even after the pandemic ends.

Just as in normal times, Coutu said different virtual events attract different folks but noted that a cooking segment hosted by staff member Lynne Daigneault has been popular. A new pub-style trivia event also had pretty good numbers, and Coutu said that’s one event they’d like to try hosting at the library when it’s safe to do so. “We could see families coming together and having a great time doing it,” he said.

Book clubs have continued virtually, with some attracting new members from further away, and staff was able to continue doing home delivery service to residents who are homebound, even before the pandemic hit, he said.

Chiavaroli noted that to-go craft kits have been huge, especially among adults. They have also evolved computer services, she said, so even when people can’t come into the library to use the computers, they can send documents through the Cloud or email to be printed and then pick them up curbside.

Through the town of Cumberland and CARES Act funds, the library has received help with COVID-19-related expenses, Coutu said, which has “helped us a lot.”

The library, through funding from the Ocean State Libraries, has been able to offer folks free Wi-Fi connection in the parking lot. Coutu said he doesn’t have stats from those devices yet, but there’s been some excitement about the initiative.

As part of an upcoming community art project, Chiavaroli said they’re asking people to help make 1,000 paper cranes, which in Japanese folklore is supposed to bring good health and prosperity. There will be an online presentation this month about origami, which will include a tutorial, she said, and they will be collecting the paper cranes throughout the month of January. “It’s a way to be together apart,” she said.

Coutu said staff are looking forward to being able to return closer and closer to normal operations, to the day when people can gather at the library again. “One of things that’s been refreshing (is) how understanding our patrons have been,” he said. “It’s been impressive how adaptive they’ve been willing to be.”

Coutu said if patrons need something and aren’t sure if the library offers it, they should call or email, and staff will do their best to help.

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