Paula Johnson, youth services associate at the Chicago Ridge Library, reminds patrons to wear masks at the library, 10400 S. Oxford Ave.
By Kelly White
As a staple in the community, the Chicago Ridge Public Library opened its doors again to the public after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ I feel this has made the library even stronger because these last couple months we really worked together to keep the library going,” said Lori Lysik, Chicago Ridge Public Library’s adult programming coordinator.
The re-opening of the library, located at 10400 S. Oxford Ave., took place on Monday after the announcement of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Phase 4 plan, which allowed for the preparation and implementation of new and updated safety guidelines complete with resources to ensure business and activities are conducted in accordance with the latest public health recommendations.
“ When the library closed its doors on March 16, we had to find a new way to reach our patrons and the community,” said Dana Wishnick, library director of the Chicago Ridge Public Library, said. “The staff came together under a scary and stressful situation to find new ways to be there for the people of Chicago Ridge and to be there for each other.”
Wishnick, who has served as library director since 2017, praised her tight-knit staff for their continued work when the building was physically closed.
“ While we were working from home for 10 weeks, the staff had a voluntary weekly Zoom meeting,” Wishnick said. “The weekly meeting became more than a chance for us to plan our services as we worked from home, it became a way to keep staff connected and supported; and a chance to meet everyone's adorable pets.”
Programming was moved to an online format and included storytimes, crafts, book reviews, and cooking videos on Facebook and Instagram. Book discussion groups were held through Zoom. Reference librarians also helped community members apply for unemployment and other benefits by phone.
“We really thought outside of the box by creating videos, polls, and posts on Facebook,” Lysik said. “I love working at the Chicago Ridge Public Library. I am very fortunate to have a job that I enjoy going to. I get to know some amazing people, and I work with an amazing department that really motivates each other.”
“We used social media to provide information, programming, and reading recommendations,” Wishnick said. “We focused on our e-resources, purchasing ebooks, audio and video, and promoting our underused online resources.”
Over the past few months, library staff increased the library’s digital collection, adding more ebooks and downloadable video and audio. Through this, staff reported an increase in ebook-borrowing by 32 percent and an increase in video-streaming by over 40 percent.
The library re-opened for curbside pickup service on Tuesday, June 2 and added computers by appointment beginning Monday, June 15. As of Monday, July 6, the library is once again open to the general public with reduced hours, capacity, and services from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Although the library has canceled in person programming for the foreseeable future, staff members are planning to continue virtual programming.
“The new services we implemented during COVID-19 will continue even after allowing the library to reach and help those that don't or can't come to the physical library,” Wishnick said. “We continued to provide phone reference services to the community, connecting people with resources and providing a compassionate ear to those isolated at home.”
Patrons are also encouraged to participate in the library’s summer reading program where participants can receive a library T-shirt and enter into a drawing for Chicago Ridge restaurants. Registration can be done online at https://chicagoridgelibrary.org/reading-programs#Summer .
“In previous years, many of these restaurants have donated gift cards for our summer reading program,” Wishnick said. “This year the library decided to support our local restaurants as a thank you; instead of asking for donations, we are purchasing the gift cards for our summer reading prizes.”
Every Tuesday, patrons are invited to participate in a program called B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Book) Book Club. The meeting takes place online via Zoom at 11 a.m. and participants discuss what they are currently reading.
“Right now we have about five people that come weekly,” Lysik said. “We are hoping to continue this throughout the year with our other book clubs.”
The library’s youth services department will also be providing a different craft or surprise each week for children and teens to pick up. All of the items to complete the project are inside of the bag at pick-up.
“I’m very excited about the library reopening,” said Samantha Zimmerman, Chicago Ridge Public Library youth services associate. “Our director (Dana) has really taken so many precautions, for example, adding plastic shields to the circulation desk to make sure patrons and staff members feel safe.”
Aside from the COVID-19 updates, this fall, the library will also be getting a new look by beginning a renovation project to refresh, upgrade and redesign the public interior spaces of the library. The renovation plans include the addition of two new study rooms; the enclosure of the adult services department and the relocation of the adult services workroom to create a light-filled space for patrons; integrated power in furniture to easily plug in electronic devices, the rearrangement of shelving and seating in the circulation, youth services, and adult services areas; a complete update of the public restrooms and large meeting room; and new finishes and new furnishings throughout the library.
The renovation, which was funded with library reserves carefully stewarded by the library board of trustees, will take five months, and is expected to begin this October. The library will be open during construction.