Online public library traffic to extensive digital selections, virtual programs soar in part to pandemic

Public libraries across the state may not be physically open, but online offerings continue as traffic to extensive digital selections and virtual programs have soared in part due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Phil Murphy implemented a series of social distancing measures to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey, which included the closure of library buildings. The measures will remain in place until the executive order Murphy signed on March 16 has been lifted.

The Monmouth County Library system is headquartered in Manalapan. It serves 40 member municipalities including Allentown, Atlantic Highlands, Colts Neck, Eastern Branch, Shrewsbury, Hazlet, Holmdel, Howell, Marlboro, Ocean Township, Oceanport, Wall and West Long Branch.

Services are free of charge to resident library cardholders and many online services are available to paid borrowers who are not part of the library system, according to Judi Tolchin, director of the Monmouth County Library system.

“Our services are so essential and facilities’ closures have created an expansion of use for online informational resources by our patrons,” Tolchin said. “The Monmouth County Library system has worked diligently to provide accessible digital resources available 24/7 from our website as we have in the past. However, as our buildings are closed, more of our users have migrated to our electronic collections and usage has substantially increased.”

The Monmouth County Library System offers an extensive selection of eBooks with more than 34,000 eBook titles and 7,500 eAudio titles in its overdrive collection; 47,400 eBooks in its EBSCO public library eBook collection; thousands of streaming movies in its Kanopy subscription service; 110 electronic magazines, TumbleBooks and videos for children; electronically accessible reference books and encyclopedia access, scholarly, academic and general searchable magazine and newspaper databases; financial resources including ValueLine, Morningstar Investment Research Center and Hoovers Online; language learning resources including Rosetta Stone and Pronunciator; educational and curriculum resources for teachers and students including Facts on File and Jstor; career and employment resources; genealogy resources, and online learning services including Lynda.com and Universal Class.

The New Jersey State Library has provided some support for the Monmouth County Library system’s electronic resources, which supports all New Jersey public libraries, Tolchin noted.

“Some of the State Library resources have expanded capabilities due to the COVID-19 crisis,” she said.

The Monmouth County Library continues to offer services including phone, email and chat reference from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“Our staff is working remotely and last week we configured 70 laptops to deploy to staff members for use during this time,” Tolchin said. “Remote phone, online chat and email reference inquiries totaled 870 patrons assisted from March 17 to April 4 when we started keeping a record of daily reference service activity. The Monmouth County Library children’s librarians are also hard at work creating virtual storytimes through our Facebook page.”

Libraries across Middlesex County are also seeing increases in digital usage since they had to close their doors.

Michael Bobish, director of the Old Bridge Public Library, said their library system saw an 18% increase of its overall e-checkouts in March from the previous year.

The 2,660 items checked out included 1,337 eBooks and audiobooks from eLibraryNJ, 447 Hoopla streaming movies and music, 327 Kanopy streaming movies and 549 RBDigital downloadable magazines.

The digital offerings in Old Bridge also includes 1,700 concerts and music documentaries through Qello.

The Monroe Township Public Library has seen a significant surge in usage of downloadable digital media, including ebooks, digital audiobooks, movies, TV shows, magazines and music.

“In March, over 100 patrons logged into Hoopla for the first time compared with just 27 first-time users in March 2019,” said Karen Klapperstuck, assistant library director in Monroe. “Overall Hoopla checkouts are up by 47% when comparing March 2020 with March 2019. Checkouts are also up 29% in eLibraryNJ and 36% RBdigital when comparing March 2020 with March 2019. We anticipate seeing similar or more significant increases in usage in April.”

Library cardholders in Monroe are encouraged to use the many digital services available on its website www.monroetwplibrary.org/resources/digital/. Temporary library cards may be obtained through www.monroetwplibrary.org/circulation/library-card/.

In addition other online resources are available on the website, including Mango Languages, Consumer Reports, Morningstar through www.monroetwplibrary.org/databases.

“Our library staff is working to bring you programs to your computer, smartphone and tablet,” Klapperstuck said, noting a variety of live programs for kids and teens, adults and programs for all ages/families are offered everyday of the week via Zoom Video Communications at www.monroetwplibrary.org/virtual-programs/.

The Metuchen Public Library has posted links to the public on its website and social media pages for accessing the library’s digital resources for Hoopla including ebooks, audiobooks, movies, music TV shows, and free Hoopla bonus; Overdrive, also called Libby, for ebooks and audiobooks; unlimited RBdigital magazines and many free e-resources for online classes, language, business, and self-improvement.

Hsi Hsi Chung, director of the Metuchen Public Library, said they allocated more budget funds for digital resources and e-contents due to the expected high demands.

“We want to stay vital and engage with the public through the resources and services we provide during this challenging time,” she said. “Together we stay stronger.”

The Hoopla usage jumped 26% from 330 checkouts in February to 416 checkouts in March. The Overdrive and RBdigital usages have remained steady with over 830 checkouts for both ebooks and audiobooks, and close to 300 checkouts in digital magazines, Chung said.

“All library materials are extended until May 15, so we ask the library users to keep the library materials with them until we reopen,” Chung said, adding all expired library cards have been renewed to May 15. “All fines will be waived until May 15. Our book drop in the back entrance is still open.”

Residents without a Metuchen Library card are encouraged to apply for one by emailing metuchenpubliclibrary@lmxac.org or visiting www.metuchenlibrary.org. The library cards are issued online to allow the public to access the library free e-resources.

“The library staff is working from home and will make plans to provide online programming such as storytime and virtual activities through Facebook and other social media,” Chung said, adding the library has launched its first e-newsletter to keep the community informed about the continued resources and basic services the library provides.

A Free Little Library table with some print books is set up in front of the library by Library Place for some residents who might need physical books during the challenging time. For information follow the Metuchen Library’s social media sites on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or contact metuchenpubliclibrary@lmxac.org. Library staff will be available to assist any tech help and answer questions.

In Woodbridge, Mayor John McCormac in his daily reports on COVID-19, had said since officials announced their library website – woodbridgelibrary.org – more than 22,000 items had been checked out online in one week.

Residents can sign up for a library card at www.woodbridgelibrary.org for access to online resources. Library cards that were due to expire between now and June were automatically renewed to encourage use of online services that require a library card number.

The site has books, magazines, movies, audiobooks, comic books and plenty of other items to keep families and children interested while stuck at home, McCormac said.

Monica Eppinger, library director for the Woodbridge Public Library, said the mayor is reading virtually to kindergarteners – aired on TV-35, Woodbridge TV YouTube, and the mayor’s Facebook page – with selections provided with the assistance of staff; librarians are staffing a new chat information service from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays; and library staff members are monitoring the Ask-A-Librarian email service to update resident library cards and assist with digital resources.

In addition, library staff members are creating and sharing positive, informational, educational social media posts in hopes to include digital media “how-to” and recommended reading lists.

“For instance, we’ve posted a page of webpages for parents who are looking for supplemental, education activities for their children who are learning at home,” Eppinger said.

Edison Library officials said some of the most popular databases are Hoopla, Libby, Kanopy, and Brainfuse – JobNow and HelpNow. A list of all the online databases for the Edison Township Public Libraries are at edisonpubliclibrary.net/databases201309_all.shtml.

The Spotswood Public Library offers many digital resources available to residents, including books, audiobooks, magazines, videos, and TV shows on its website, www.spotslibrary.org.

Residents are asked to keep materials that are currently checked out. All due dates are being extended and overdue fines will not be charged.

The South Brunswick Library offers a vast digital collection of ebooks, audiobooks, current magazines, movies, and music. The library’s extensive group of databases offers language learning and ESL [English as a Second Language] with Rosetta Stone and Pronunciator, virtual homework help with Brainfuse, and access to Consumer Reports with Ebscohost.

Virtual activities for children include storytimes, crafts and cooking activities and poetry readings for adults. For more information visit www.sbpl.info/.

“The South Brunswick Library is eager to serve its community, but now in a new way,” said Judy Pietrobono, assistant library director. “We are still here for our residents and can’t wait to see them in person again.”

In March, the library saw 1,092 circulations on the Hoopla service, 744 checkouts from RB Digital, 2,815 circulations from Libby, and 567 uses from Freegal, which provides access to a variety of music.

Pietrobono said chat calls for library assistance have gone up “2,000%” since doors closed. In addition, the library’s Facebook page garnered 400 more “likes” since the library’s closure. Library cards can be issued for residents at www.sbpl.info/.

“Since we’ve been closed, 69 new library cards have been issued,” she said. “In addition, 90 cards were made for Crossroads [Middle School] students in anticipation of the closing.”

The library, through its information services and IT staff, partnered with the township, the police department and the school district to launch the website www.southbrunswickcovid.info/ as part of South Brunswick’s mission to be the information source for South Brunswick. The web hosting is made possible by the South Brunswick Library Foundation.

Leah Kloc, library director at the Sayreville Public Library, said the library is committed to supporting and enriching the community while their physical building is closed.

“Our website has links to trusted sources on the COVID-19 virus, so our patrons are not misinformed during this terrible pandemic,” she said. “The library is also committed to offering programs, books and services to give people a break from the 24-hour news cycle.”

Since closing, there has been a 46% increase in digital downloads from ELibraryNJ. Additionally, the Sayreville library is part of a library consortium that consists of more than 30 libraries. Sayreville patrons have access to their e-book collections as well. Total consortium downloads increased by 31%, library officials said.

More than 1,200 patrons signed up for Hoopla service in Sayreville since the closure on March 15.

The Sayreville library offers programs and services for children, teens and adults online. The library’s head of youth services, Hannah Lee, has worked to create comprehensive programming for youth of all ages in the community.

“She, along with Librarian Pam Gunter and Library Associate Marie Chuntz, offer multiple online storytimes, baby lapsits, crafts and STEM programs,” Kloc said.

The online programs are recorded on the library Facebook page, and some have been viewed thousands of times. Kloc noted the programs are promoted to other local libraries and attract viewers from all over the country.

Lee also conducts a chapter book read-along for ‘tweens at sayrevilleyouth.wordpress.com, introducing them to quality literature a few chapters at a time. The page includes tips for parents who are teaching their children at home and suggestions for family activities.

Teen Librarian Brittany Coyle is responsible for online and remote teen programming. The Teen Advisory Board meets remotely, as does the Dungeons and Dragons program, in efforts for teens to keep in touch with their peers and provides a sense of normalcy.

“For teens, we get a weekly crowd of 13 volunteers at our Zoom meetings,” Lee said.

“They are planning a Community Pen Pal group where they are partnering with nursing homes and elementary students to practice writing letters to each other,” she said. “They are also looking into starting a Zoom Reading Buddies program where they can help kids practice reading with one-on-one sessions. Every Monday, Brittany leads a Watch Party where they can socialize while watching hilarious TV shows. And on Wednesdays, we have a group of teens who play [Dungeons and Dragons] online with me as Game Master, where they can also talk about their homework assignments and often branch out into study groups after the game.”

The library’s Baby Steps program gets a weekly audience of 1,300 people every week and Marie’s Autism Awareness Month sensory activities and daily storytimes have kept grandparents connected with their grandchildren as they share the videos of something they’ve often done together, giving a sense of normalcy to their days, she said.

Adult Services is doing a number of interesting things for its patrons. For many years, the library has sponsored a group program called Contagious Optimism. The facilitator, Dr. Colleen Georges, is helping participants to increase their optimism, while decreasing fear and anxiety during this very scary outbreak.

Adult Services Librarian Jennifer Larsen has switched the “Bring Your Own Book” book club to a remote format that continues to attract participants. She is also available to answer reference and tech questions submitted via email.

Kloc, who remains in the library building answering inquiries via email, said patrons can also access the library’s Wi-Fi from their car in the parking lot at 1050 Washington Road, Parlin, around the clock.