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Coronavirus: Libraries Offer Digital Services for Students

In Washington state, library systems are focusing their efforts on digital services — especially for homeschooling — as the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic forces schools and libraries to close.

by Robert Mittendorf, The Bellingham Herald / March 23, 2020
Dr. Jamie Young, a chemistry lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, is recording videos for his lab classes to make sure students can still learn the material even as JHU moves to online courses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. TNS

(TNS) — The Bellingham and Whatcom County library systems in Washington state are focusing their efforts on digital services — especially for homeschooling — as the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic forces schools and libraries to close.

Patrons borrowed large amounts of books and other materials when library officials announced an impending closure, officials said.

“Our number of items checked out more than doubled that of a typical weekend,” Bellingham Public Library spokeswoman Janice Keller told The Bellingham Herald.

Libraries closed Monday, and schools are closed until at least April 27, allowing for social distancing to help slow the virus’ spread.

The city and county library systems offer a dizzying array of digital services — including ebooks, audiobooks, language learning, educational instruction, business resources, music downloads, music and video streaming, and electronic newspapers and magazines.

Services are free to library card holders, and those without a library card can apply for one online.

Some services, such as ebook and audiobook downloads, require smartphone or tablet apps, called Overdrive and Libby.

Christine Perkins, director of the Whatcom County Library System, told The Bellingham Herald that staff members will answer phones to help patrons navigate the website and offer tips for homeschooling.

Bellingham Library also will have staff available to help with electronic services.

“Sometimes people need some coaching, so that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re staffing our call center 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday,” Keller said. “Folks should be patient. We expect some volume.”

Bellingham Library’s number for digital help is 360-778-7323, and the county libraries’ number is 360-305-3600.

Keller and Perkins said that use of the libraries’ digital services can be measured, but those early numbers weren’t yet known.

But they’re expecting a sharp rise in electronic use.

Perkins said the library provides a digital neighborhood in the same way that the physical buildings give patrons a place to socialize and share ideas.

“It reminds us of how our staff members are connected to the community,” Perkins said. “This lack of social interactions, that’s something that we as a society are having to grapple with.”

She said that librarians were looking at using Facebook Messenger or a similar video app to hold virtual book discussions.

They’re also working on instructional videos to explain how to use digital services.

Whatcom County libraries will be launching phone and online chat service on Monday. It will be available seven days a week from 1-5 p.m., and staff members will be available to speak by phone, according to Perkins.

“We can suggest good books or movies, help people log in to online library services, set up their eBook readers, and answer reference questions,” Perkins wrote in an email. “We also welcome calls from our library regulars and other members of the public who would just like to check in. We care about everyone in our communities.”

Librarians also will working on virtual story times and preparing guides on where families and small businesses can find assistance.

Home pages at both libraries’ websites now highlight their online features.

Perkins said the best options for at-home electronic learning and homeschooling are Britannica Library, CultureGrams, Tumble Book Library, Tumble Math and Kanopy streaming service.

“Kanopy has all these special documentaries,” Keller said. “If I were homeschooling, I would be looking for that kind of resource.”

There’s even coloring books for adults, and pages can be downloaded and printed.

“The coloring books can be found via RBDigital (, click on the big image ‘We’re Open Online’ and select RBDigital. If you search for coloring books using the magnifying glass icon, they’ll come up,” Perkins wrote in a email.

Both Bellingham and WCLS have closed their return slots, extended due dates and won’t charge overdue fees.

“We just want our books back eventually,” Perkins said.

©2020 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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