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Public Library sees digital use spike

Books in quarantine is so 2020.

 But that’s exactly what happens when you return a book to the Morgantown Public Library System these days.  

 Executive Director Sarah Palfrey said the precaution is just one of the ways the library system has had to adapt to life during a pandemic.

While the actual library facilities, including the Clinton, Cheat Lake, Clay-Battelle and Arnettsville branches along with the Morgantown Public Library, were closed from mid-March to June 1, the pages kept turning.

As you would expect, library visits have been way down — 114,735 over the last year compared to 226,807 in the 12 months prior.   

But that’s only part of the story.

The system’s digital library, which typically sees a 20% increase in use year over year, saw a 30% bump over the last 12 months. Palfrey said that prior to school restarting, the digital library was seeing 11,000 to 12,000 borrows monthly.

“The numbers are just a snapshot of what we do. They don’t measure our impact,” Palfrey said, praising her staff for creating ways to keep readers engaged both online and off.

“For every challenge we’ve come across this year we just keep going back to, ‘Why do we do what we do,’” she said. “The thing that runs through everything we do is it’s always about connections — between staff and patrons, between patrons and a community institution, between all of us and our shared love of reading.”

 Whether those connections come through choose-your-own-adventure sessions via Facebook Live,  a walk down a book trail or a backyard scavenger hunt, Palfrey said the library’s aim is to make its programs as accessible as possible despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

The library system is offering curbside pickup upon request and has reinstituted its monthly homebound delivery service.

Patrons, both online and in person, may notice some improvements as the library system’s website received some updating, as has the Morgantown Public Library, which recently reconfigured its circulation desk and is in the process of getting a new HVAC system and new interior doors.

Morgantown City Councilor Barry Wendell praised the efforts of Palfrey and her staff and called the addition of a Suncrest/Evansdale branch “a dream of mine.”

“That may be up to us, really, to figure out a way to fund that,” Wendell said of council.

 The library system has a $1,890,407 budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Of that, $797,718 comes from the city of Morgantown, $500,000 comes from a county-wide excess levy, which was renewed in May, and $490,009 comes from the West Virginia Library Commission.

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