Since the darkest days of the pandemic, we’ve been continually inspired by our library partners’ creative and dedicated work to keep patrons engaged and reading. When buildings closed and face-to-face interactions dwindled, librarians kicked into high gear. Now, as we settle into a new normal where virtual engagement is a necessity, we want to share the story of five-year Beanstack client Keene Memorial Library in Fremont, NE, after a thought-provoking conversation with their librarian champion, Director Laura England-Biggs.
“March 7, 2020, at 4:30 p.m., we closed our library, because COVID was in our town,” England-Biggs recounted. But the building closure didn’t mean the library stopped serving its community. In just two weeks, they quickly adapted their services to set up a curbside pickup system and started spreading the word that the library was up and running.
Without face-to-face interactions at the library and throughout the community, connecting with patrons and promoting summer reading was a challenge. “Beanstack was definitely a big part of, ‘Hey, summer reading is coming, even though it’s going to look different,’” England-Biggs said. She and her staff advertised on social media channels and in their local media in the absence of their usual in-person outreach to area nursing homes, schools, and low-income housing units. They assembled craft packets, grab-and-go kits, and their hallmark summer reading prizes: books.
“We ran out of books during COVID. We had to go buy more. That was a good problem,” she reminisced.
Keene Memorial Library staff found creative ways to push through the technology fatigue during the months of remote work and school. Staff members heavily promoted their community goal to patrons as they came to curbside pickup and, later on, into the library during its phased reopening. “We have staff who really talk up summer reading and say, ‘You know, you could help us reach our goal. You read a lot, I know you do. You don’t have a computer? We’re happy to help you,’” England-Biggs said. The library even advertises their Beanstack site on their printed and emailed receipt header, so all their patrons see it when they check out books.
England-Biggs stressed how easy logging reading can be. “If you can sign up for Amazon, you can do this,” she said. She saw many families turning to their phones to quickly log reading for multiple kids on the Beanstack mobile app, especially during the past year and a half. “I have at least three families that are addicted to the app,” she chuckled.
Not only is Beanstack easy for their patrons to use, but Keene Memorial Library staff and administrators find it to be a breeze, too. In an era when public libraries are finding themselves strapped for resources, and especially staff time, England-Biggs wasn’t stressed about challenge setup—even when she found herself a little behind schedule.
“[Beanstack has] really great templates to work with,” she said, recounting her rush to set up summer reading in the midst of a fundraising drive for a library expansion and while working as the library director, youth services librarian, and system administrator. As a Collaborative Summer Library Program participant, England-Biggs was able to set up her challenge from the CSLP template in just a few days. “Beanstack is affordable, easy-to-use, and people really like it. It’s easy for me, it’s easy for them.”
While the library fell 10,000 minutes short of their 300,000 minute summer reading goal in 2020, they hit their stride this summer. The library blew past their 2021 goal of 350,000 minutes, with 475 readers logging more than 498,000 minutes. Now, coming out of their most successful summer reading yet, England-Biggs is looking forward to bulking up their year-round challenges. With an adult-centric fall reading challenge planned and the annual Beanstack Winter Reading Challenge, England-Biggs and her team are nurturing a year-round culture of reading in Fremont.
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