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San Diego County libraries adapt to pandemic shutdowns

Move to digital keeps customers connected
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Posted at 6:12 AM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 09:41:21-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Libraries across San Diego County adapted quickly during the coronavirus pandemic, offering digital options for people to continue reading, researching, and connecting with the community.

"It's hugely important," says Migell Acosta, the San Diego County Library System Director. "People need libraries for serious study and recreational reading and then their information needs."

"We knew that our main services were going to be reference, picking up library material and connecting to our technology," adds Ady Huertas, the Supervising Librarian of Youth and Family Services for the City of San Diego. "Luckily, during this time, we've been able to maintain that service, and we're really happy that we're able to do that."

Moving to digital services when the pandemic forced branches to close took some adjustments but ultimately proved successful.

Libraries moved money in their budgets from buying physical books to buying ebooks so people could have more options to download. The County library system went from 2 million ebook downloads in 2019 to 3 million in 2020 and amassed the state's 2nd most extensive digital library.

The City Library created a virtual hub on Facebook to connect with people through storytime, videos, and more. It quickly grew to more than 2,000 followers.

"We went from creating some basic programming daily to having multiple programs per day for all ages," says Huertas. "We have a schedule. We have storytimes, book clubs, book talks, crafts, stem, learning opportunities, and we even have mindfulness programs and other folks we collaborate to create the content."

Both systems also gave out nearly 30,000 take-home summer reading kits to keep kids excited about literacy.

The County sent magazines and paperback books to members of the homeless population living in shelters and hotels.
Libraries also expanded their online learning options. The County's high school diploma program for people aged 19 and up graduated 25 people during the pandemic and currently has 100 more enrolled.

They also offered access to Linda.com, an online learning library of "how-to" videos.

"I love YouTube like everybody else," says Acosta. "But these are classes that are more business skills, how to do a presentation, accounting skills, and then deep level computer skills."

They've had several thousand hours' worths of videos already viewed on the service since they added the service.
In the spring, libraries were able to add in-person pick up of books. Over the summer, they offered limited access for people to come into the branches.

They also made it easier for people to become library customers by offering library cards with only a phone number or email address.

To help address the equity gap, libraries also allowed people to check out computers and other devices. They also expanded wifi signals at the branches to have internet access for people sitting outside the library.

Library officials say the new emphasis on digital has made them better libraries in the long run.

"Whenever there's a challenge to be met, and you step up to the challenge, personally or as an institution, you become better for from that experience," says Huertas.