There’s a laundry list of things the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to, but one entity that refused to lie down and close up shop was the Spring Hill Public Library — in large part due to Library Director Dana Juriew and her team.
While the library first closed to the public in early March of 2020, Juriew continued working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the core of the library’s offerings available to the public.
Whether it be through virtual library events or by expanding the library’s eBook offerings, Juriew and her team made it their mission to keep the library alive.
Early 2020 looked promising for the library. The Public Library Association — a professional association of public librarians and supporters — decided to hold its biennial conference in Nashville, a decision that offered a rare opportunity for her and her staff.
“That’s an every-other-year conference and we can never afford to go and it’s always far away. It came to Nashville so I was able to send a set number of staff members each day,” Juriew says.
“That was at the end of February, and I remember being nervous about it. I remember one person with a mask [being there] and I thought she was overreacting a little bit. Then 14 days later we ended up closing our library.”
While library services continued in a limited capacity after the initial closure, the library was forced to shut down completely on March 17 after fears of a staffer having contracted COVID-19. With no custodian, Juriew herself spent the entire next day cleaning. Wiping every computer, glass surface, chair and bathroom down with Lysol, the entire process took about six hours, Juriew says, but it was necessary.
After just a matter of days, the library resumed its curbside pickup service, allowing for residents to continue checking out books at their leisure. Juriew and her team also attempted to resume library events such as its popular “story time” and live performers, though encountered many struggles with the transition.
“Because our programs are so dynamic, to lose all of that interaction and try to recreate that online is impossible,” Juriew says. “So what [we] did was do the story — they did a new story every day — and then for each week they did a take-and-make, a craft you can take from the library and do at home. That was a budget hit because they’re extremely expensive.”
It was also during this period of limited operation that Juriew began having concerns for the library’s older patrons, many of whom would come in daily just to chat.
“During that time, we were very cognizant of our senior population; we would call them and make sure they were OK if we didn’t hear from them because a lot of them come in weekly, some daily, and we were just worried about their health,” Juriew says. “We missed our seniors and we missed our children... It’s hard to do a story time online when you don’t have an audience reaction.”
One older patron in particular, Juriew says, was a particularly hurtful regular to lose during this time.
“We have one patron who comes to the library probably four days a week, and it’s as much a social interaction as it is picking up books and movies for his wife,” Juriew says.
“The first time we called [him] as a group, maybe eight of us, we put him on speakerphone and just chatted with him; he loved it, he just wants to tell stories to an audience. The first day he came in when we were open, he pulled up a chair to the checkout desk and sat, didn’t care who was behind him, he sat and chatted for a good half hour.”
Juriew and her staff would make it a point to check in on their regulars with phone calls. As Juriew explains, the library was often some of Spring Hill’s older resident’s main source of social interaction.
In the summer months of 2020, Juriew also says that Spring Hill residents did an unusually large amount of spring cleaning, and would drop off books at the library in unprecedented numbers. Despite Juriew describing the library’s storage space as “really quite large,” it soon ran out of room.
Books were then moved to the garage of Friends of the Spring Hill Library Treasurer Lisa Arnwine to help manage the ever-increasing supply. Ultimately, Juriew felt that it was vital to the Spring Hill community to continue offering the library’s services in any way possible. During a time of great isolation amid lockdowns and quarantines, Juriew argues that the library’s importance was perhaps greater then than it ever had been.
“In a time when you are feeling isolated, it’s great to know that you can reach out in some form or another and there’s somebody out there eager to help you and eager to talk to you,” Juriew says. “Even though you’re limited in what you can offer socially, we were still here. We were able to keep a sense of community going throughout the pandemic.”