Staying connected: Huntsville library expands digital services during pandemic

By: Lucy Berry DeButy

Schools have shut down. Non-essential businesses have closed. People are staying home.

All of us are adjusting to a new normal in the wake of COVID-19. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library’s (HMCPL) desire to continue serving the community during this unprecedented time.

“Libraries have changed roles significantly over the last couple of decades but literacy still remains at the heart of what we do,” said Melanie Thornton, director of public relations for HMCPL. “Libraries are community hubs and this pandemic has allowed us to take what we do best and bring a sense of community to our patrons when they need it the most.”

Keeping you connected

While the doors of HMCPL are temporarily closed, the library is still active. Here’s a glimpse at what they’ve been up to:

  • Hoopla: HMCPL recently acquired a three-month subscription to Hoopla, a popular online service that allows patrons to check out up to five e-books, audiobooks, movies and TV shows per month. No waiting required.  You must have a library card number and PIN to participate.
  • Community: Inspired by Smarter Every Day creator Destin Sandlin’s call to print face shields for local healthcare workers, the library got to work. They’ve created over 80 face shields for frontline workers so far and are among the top 10 percent of producers for the project. HMCPL has also provided overstock printing materials to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber for distribution.
  • Virtual Story Time: Kids bored at home? HMCPL is offering online story times that have been very popular with children and parents during the quarantine. New videos are available on YouTube at 9 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
  • Crafting: The library recently debuted Crafting with Haley, a kid-focused, how-to video series using items commonly found around the house. New videos premiere at 9 a.m. every Friday on YouTube.
  • Blog Series: Looking for a reputable COVID-19 source? Check out the library’s latest blog series, which focuses on misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Digital Media Zone: More than 200 new e-books are now available via the library’s Digital Media Zone.
  • Book Club: Grab a cup of coffee or tea and discuss your favorite comfort reads via The Quarantined Librarian, HMCPL’s virtual book club. Click here to join every Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • Resources: Bookmark hmcpl.org/hmcplconnects for free online resources, including Homework Alabama and Ancestry.com.

Community response

The public’s reaction to the library’s efforts to stay connected has been positive so far, Thornton said.

“We already have a community of avid readers in Huntsville as evidenced by the top circulation in the state year after year,” she said. “People are embracing the resources that we are providing for them especially when we do not have many options for entertainment right now. We have had hundreds of returning users and new users these last few weeks.”

Soon, the library hopes to roll out more online programming and other new services for patrons.

“Our first goal is to be able to offer curbside service at select locations when it is safe to do so,” Thornton said. “There are a lot of behind-the-scenes logistics with our cataloging and transit systems that we are working on right now to make it as seamless as possible.”

Need to return a book?

Thornton said HMCPL is waiving all late fees during closure and allowing patrons to return materials when the library reopens.

Residents can also acquire a library card digitally by emailing HMCPL at [email protected]

For more information, including updates on changes to hours, operations or procedures, visit HMCPL’s website.

“We predict that we will see many new ‘regular’ patrons once social distancing is no longer required,” Thornton said.