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Libraries help with book and digital needs

YATES COUNTY--While residents throughout the Finger Lakes have adapted to many changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, local libraries throughout the region have been hard at work to provide their services to the community. Along with offering curbside service while closed, many libraries have also been offering internet service from the parking lot, virtual storytimes and copying and printing services.
"For a community like ours the library is essential," said Linda Nichols, director of the Dundee Library. "We are not in the mainstream of a city or anything and people depend on us for copying, for the computers and for our WiFi, which is available 24 hours a day and up to 70 people per month use. The months that we were closed, from March to June, people really missed us."
Since June, Nichols said the library has been doing curbside pickup.
"We are still closed because we are undergoing construction that limits access to parts of the library," Nichols added. "We hope that we will be able to reopen in October."
The Penn Yan Library opened to the public for the first time since closing Monday, Aug. 31 and according to library director Angela Gonzalez, public response has been strong.
"We are very excited to see everybody," Gonzalez said.
Closed while a new heating and ventilation system was installed, Gonzalez mentioned the library has installed clear screens to help with social distancing.
"We have had a lot of guidance from the Southern Tier Library System in developing our safety plan," Gonzalez stated. "It has been a long road but we are glad to be open again."
In Hammondsport, the Fred and Harriet Taylor Memorial Library has seen circulation double since they reopened their doors but many have utilized their digital resources as well.
"Our digital stats have gone up 75 percent so that has skyrocketed," said Sally Jacoby Murphy, director of the Memorial Library.
While open, Jacoby Murphy said patrons are being encouraged to browse quickly and not remain after selecting their book.
"I think it is important that we are open right now because people are desperate for books," Jacoby Murphy said. "They help the cultural enrichment of the community along with personal enrichment and people are grateful to be back."
Despite being happy to provide physical books again, the pandemic has shown the need to further analyze and expand digital offerings by the library.
"Maintaining that digital offering and expanding our options is something we want to do even once this is over," Jacoby Murphy mentioned. "The pandemic has opened our eyes to accessibility issues we didn't know were there before."
As to funding, Jacoby Murphy said she was confident in the short term, but less so long term.
"Locally, our funding mostly comes from local voters, but long term the bigger question is down the road as to where funding is cut from state and national budgets," Jacoby Murphy added.
As it stands, the Montour Falls Library, Watkins Glen Library and Odessa Library are offering curbside pickup of books along with digital options. They are hopeful to reopen in October.
"We are not open yet but we are going to evaluate the situation continually and look to the schools, not for guidance, but we want to see how things go when school reopens (in terms of COVID numbers)," said Tracy Savard, director of the Watkins Glen Public Library.
With a library board meeting coming up soon, Savard said the decision to reopen will be made as a group. Meanwhile Savard said library patrons have remained patient and respectful as they wait for the library to reopen.
"People are pleased that we are at least still offering some services," Savard stated.
Along with curbside pickup and digital offerings, Savard said the library is working on story walks that will begin in the winter.
"We will disassemble books for new readers and put them on walks," Savard added. "For the winter we are looking at a soft opening and we are looking for storefronts to participate."
In Montour Falls, the public library is also closed to foot traffic but offering curbside pickup and like Watkins Glen is offering limited printing and copying options.
Jessica Westlake, administrative assistant for the Montour Falls Public Library said that while usage of curbside pickup was initially slow more and more people are starting to take advantage of the service.
"We have had several new people signing up for library cards and we are looking into investing more into digital services, which is new for us and our patrons," Westlake mentioned. Savard likewise said the pandemic has shown the need to invest in digital services going forward.
"Lots of folks don't have internet or computers at home, so I think getting more hotspots and devices we can loan out is imperative moving forward," Savard said. "I have already applied for a grant to get more hotspots, we only have two right now and they are constantly out."
Kristen Albertsman, acting interim director for the Odessa Public Library said that while copying and printing services are not being offered, curbside pickup is available while the library is limiting visitors.
"We are aiming to open in October, we are waiting to see what happens with the schools," Albertsman said.
Along with offering digital materials and curbside pickup, Albertsman said the library has been using social media to connect with patrons through events like storytime for children.
"Libraries are very important to local communities," Albertsman said.
Westlake agreed, and said along with library services, Montour Falls has put together back to school kits for 25 students funded through a grant.
"And we are going to try to purchase more," Westlake added.
As to funding concerns, Savard said Watkins Glen was especially hard-hit as the library was unable to hold its annual book sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"And we usually would operate the visitor information center," Savard said.
As it stands, all three libraries said they would continue to work hard to provide the services that local residents have come to expect from their library.
"It's been a pretty big adjustment but the fact that we are still providing library materials for patrons and moving in the right direction is a good thing," Savard said.

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