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Beatrice Public Library remains educational, entertainment resource for community during COVID
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Beatrice Public Library remains educational, entertainment resource for community during COVID

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For Beatrice residents, escaping into different worlds and viewpoints, or accessing resources to learn more about this world, are all in one easily accessible location at 100 N 16th Street.

While Beatrice Public Library’s doors were closed for roughly two months this spring due to COVID-19, many of its services were still available and used by the community.

Youth services librarian and interim director Joanne Neemann said that library is still offering curbside and delivery of physical materials for those not wanting to enter the building. She said card requests, and eBook and audiobook usage through Nebraska OverDrive Libraries’ Libby app have all increased this year.

“We had some new cards issued just specifically for the Libby app,” Neemann said. “So it is kind of catching on, and I think the schools are using more of it because there’s no physical books to touch. So our younger crowd is starting to use the Libby app and Overdrive.”

The library also offers music through Freegal Music, foreign language education through Mango Languages, magazines through RBdigital and online newspapers through Newsbank.

“We have all kinds of online things that many [people] would never have tried out or would even have thought of the library having, because they didn’t need it,” the previous library director, Laureen Riedesel, said. “They had their own services, or they knew they could stop in and pick up a book or a magazine, whatever it was that they wanted. That part just didn’t appeal to them as something they needed right then. Now all of a sudden, it’s like ‘I don’t really want to deal with that part of the world anymore. I want things to come to me online. I want to be able to stay home and access the world.’ Hey, we got ready for that.”

Riedesel compared some patrons’ use of the library to their use of the fire department: that they hope they never need the services, but when they do, they want those resources immediately.

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“It doesn’t always have to be a serious subject,” Riedesel said. “It could just be you hear about something that’s out there in the world, and you want to be a part of it, too.”

For other patrons like Chelsea Biatek and her family, checking out children’s books and using the library’s computers was a weekly part of their routine that was impacted by the closure.

“We were super bummed…We definitely had to find other things to do. It was a big change for my kids. We love it. We use the library all the time. It’s a great way for them to be exposed to different books that we don’t have at home, and the different activities that they have here for the kids,” Biatek said. “They just love a ton of stuff that the library offers.”

Riedesel said librarians missed those interactions just as much. She said that it’s common for people to first come to the library wanting a picture book for themselves or a family member, and then realizing all of the other programs and resources that are offered.

“It just opened up a whole world of opportunity to them, starting out with that initial little need, which is what pulled them into the library service in the first place, not realizing that it really is a cradle-to-grave service,” Riedesel said.

In recent months, the library has offered a variety of online and in-person events that allow for social distancing, including a fully online summer reading program that was expanded for all age groups, children’s storytimes on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:30a.m., the StoryWalk at Riverside Park, book sales, the Makerspace, monthly book discussions, and art exhibits in the Vette Cultural Arts Center. COVID precautions at the library include having patrons and staff wear masks, social distanced seating options and disinfecting down books and areas between uses.

Neemann said events through the end of the year include a Christmas take-home craft, a holiday traditions display in the Arts Center, and monthly seed library programs with the Gage County Extension Office.

“I feel that Beatrice is very lucky to have the patrons we have…But I am hopeful that we can go back to normal, and slowly put out the blocks, the puzzles and the dress up clothes and puppets,” Neemann said. “I do know that that’s always something fun for the kids to do.”

“If you look at that big picture role of what is it as the society that we have today that we need, that helps keep things equal? That people have opportunities to learn and sometimes just plain be entertained? To see something on DVD that you don’t have to buy or you can’t find anymore…You go to the library, there it is and they’ll loan it to you,” Riedesel said. “Part of me wants to say it’s more crucial than ever. Part of me wants to say it’s as crucial as it’s ever been.”

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