Many of us have warm memories of going to the library growing up. Browsing the shelves, hoping a new book by our favorite author was there, hoping to find something new to enjoy. For bibliophiles, the library is paradise. Unlike a bookstore, where they let you sit for a while but hope you actually buy that book you’re already halfway through, libraries encourage you to hang around a while. Touch all the books. Maybe check out a movie, do some research for a homework assignment, or even apply for a job before getting help with your taxes. They really are full-service institutions. Whatever you may need, there’s a really good chance your friendly local librarian can point you in the right direction. Wood and Washington Counties’ libraries are no exception.

The task of being there for their patrons definitely got a good deal harder when libraries were forced to close because of the COVID-19 quarantine. But harder doesn’t mean impossible, and the staff at all of our local libraries have gone many extra miles to allow the people of the Mid-Ohio Valley to access a plethora of amazing resources. Some are enhancements of services that were already there while others are new responses to the current situation.

Both the Wood and Washington County library systems have had robust online book collections and online resources through such services as Flipster for magazines and Hoopla for e-books. But according to Brian Raitz, director of the Emerson Avenue branch of the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library, they are working hard to increase their digital collection.

We’ve worked with some of our digital download providers to expand services.

“During this time, we can’t buy materials for the physical collection anyway,” Raitz said. “I mean book wholesalers aren’t even sending materials.” So they are taking resources that would have gone to their digital collection anyway and supplementing that with funds that would normally go to their physical collection. Additionally, they are expanding how many books patrons may download per month. Washington County Public Library’s Marketing and Community Relations manager, our very own Sarah Arnold, says they are doing the same thing. “We’ve worked with some of our digital download providers,” she said “to expand services; for instance, Hoopla increased the limit on borrows per month from 10 to 30 in April.”

Another thing the Washington County library system is doing to help people access their resources is allowing new patrons to sign up for an e-card, which gives them access to all of the library’s digital collection, something existing patrons already have. They also have a mobile app to aid in searching through the library’s digital collection.

Both systems are also moving some of their traditionally face-to-face programs into the digital realm. According to Arnold, Washington County is converting their summer reading program to a digital platform known as Beanstack. “We know this will be a major change, but we are following the lead of libraries across the country in an effort to do what is best for both our patrons and staff.” The platform will allow users to keep track of how much they’ve read, join in challenges, maintain a log of their progress, and even garner prizes. Raitz says Wood County’s staff are working on plans to move their summer reading to a different look too, with a de-emphasis on large-group activities. “One, we don’t think it’s safe,” Raitz said about their traditional summer format, “but two, I don’t think the patrons would be interested really in bringing their kids to large happenings. We’re going to be doing a lot more individualized stuff.” 

We really miss our patrons. We really miss them.

Beyond all this, Wood County is offering a number of fun activities, such as online escape rooms. The south Parkersburg branch is preparing a Blennerhassett-themed room that will teach participants about the island itself as well as the history of the family. The previous room, which is still available online, is about Mothman. The Vienna branch is doing crafts online as well, and the Emerson branch has Zoom-based meetings on the history of the area as well as a monthly book club. “We call ourselves the Random Readers,” Raitz said. “There’s about five of us in that group. We just pick a subject and we can choose to read whatever we want on that subject.”

Libraries on both sides of the Ohio River have also opened up their Wi-Fi, allowing people to access it from their parking lots, and Marietta, in a nod to those of us who prefer the kind of books you don’t have to plug in, is stocking Little Free Libraries all around the city with sanitized books.

Speaking of books, all patrons are asked to wait to return any that they have checked out. Marietta has extended all due dates until early May, though they don’t have fines for late returns anyway. Wood County libraries are holding off on accepting books back until they have a clear idea of a timeline for re-opening.

Library lovers throughout the valley are listening with anticipation for word that their beloved sanctuaries will re-open. And you can rest assured, the staff feel the same. “You can tell the readers in your article,” Raitz said, “that I and the other members of the staff, we really miss our patrons. We really miss them.” But in the meantime, everyone who needs a reading fix can go to the website for the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library, or the site or app for the Washington County Public Library, to find more digital books than they could ever read and many other online resources. You can’t go and spend the day there for a bit, but your local library is still there for you.