Ch@T: The pandemic closed its doors. The cyber attack knocked its systems offline. But the Chatham Community Library is still providing good reading.

Posted 3/2/21

Nearly a year into a pandemic that has turned operations at Chatham County’s public libraries upside down, Rita Van Duinen is part of a team continuing to work to keep the services available and …

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Ch@T: The pandemic closed its doors. The cyber attack knocked its systems offline. But the Chatham Community Library is still providing good reading.

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Nearly a year into a pandemic that has turned operations at Chatham County’s public libraries upside down, Rita Van Duinen is part of a team continuing to work to keep the services available and useful. This week, Van Duinen, the branch manager for Pittsboro’s Chatham Community Library, talks about how the libraries have ramped up services — despite doors still being closed and digital access interrupted by Chatham’s cyber attack.

A native of Greensboro, Van Duinen has been a Chatham County resident for more than 20 years. She began working in libraries while pursuing a degree in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Oregon in the 1980s. Van Duinen returned to North Carolina and in the early 1990s began a 17-year career at the UNC University Library system, during which she earned a Master of Science in Library Science from the school. Following a stint as lead instructor for CCCC’s Library and Information Technology program and time spent as a consultant to the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Library and Information Resources, she became branch manager of the Chatham Community Library in 2017.

All Chatham County libraries are still closed. Between the pandemic and the county’s cyber incident, which also affected the library, you’ve had a difficult last few months. But let’s talk about the good news first: curbside pickup and digital resources are still available. How does curbside pickup of physical materials from the library work for patrons?

Chatham County Public Libraries’ curbside service began on June 22, 2020, and it continues to be a successful program even while the county recovers from the cyber incident.

As a result of losing access to our library systems, we had to revert to a manual checkout process which produced a 120+ page document tracking items that went out of the building (~3,000 for the Pittsboro branch). Now that our systems are back online, we were able to reconcile our manual transactions with our database and are currently performing a full inventory. This will ensure that the online catalog provides the most accurate data on our holdings.

Curbside service is available Monday-Friday (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) at all three branches (Pittsboro, Siler City and Goldston). Patrons are now able to search the online catalog (www.chathamcountync.gov/library-onlineresources) and place holds for items located at a specific branch. Once processed, library staff will contact you to schedule a pickup date and time. Staff wear face coverings and gloves and bring requests out to the patron’s vehicle for contactless delivery to the trunk or back seat. All requests are packaged up in a sealed bag.

Digital resources (including access to Libby and OverDrive) were affected by the county’s network issues. What’s the update here — what’s available and working, and what’s not?

Access to electronic content via Libby/OverDrive was temporarily disrupted due to the cyber incident. Because some of our library systems were offline for about six weeks, patron account information could not be verified in OverDrive. Working with Chatham County Management and Information Systems staff and our vendor, we were able to bring this service back online on Dec. 14. This was a real milestone for us since the demand for access to OverDrive content has more than doubled since closing for the pandemic. Because the demand is so high, we were able to secure some supplemental funding from the county to purchase additional content from OverDrive.

What other services are available even though the library is closed?

Once Chatham County Public Libraries closed last March, we knew immediately that we needed to pivot traditional services to a virtual environment as well as recognize our limitations in certain areas.

We held our first virtual summer reading program using a specialty software called Beanstack and will do the same this coming summer. We have also developed some new offerings for children and adults, all virtual, that have been successful. These include the newly formed Kids’ Club for Social Justice, Digital Citizenship for Kids, our monthly virtual open mic program for adults as well as community-based events like the one we held in October on American poet Langston Hughes. The silver lining in all of this is that we have learned to adapt and navigate through these difficult times while also recognizing opportunity and re-envisioning our services.

Among the Chatham Community Library’s most popular elements have been the in-person classes and programs. Subscribers to your e-newsletter know there’s still a lot of activity here, even though your doors are locked. What can you share?

As we recover from the cyber incident and prepare for a post-pandemic environment, we are working under the auspices that aside from curbside service, all programming and instruction will currently remain virtual. We are taking this opportunity to work with County MIS to upgrade the public computer lab equipment and to get safety precautions in place for the day when we can reopen.

Check out our website (www.chathamcountync.gov/library) and online events calendar to see all of our current services and programs.

You’re closed, but your specialists are still working, including reference librarians. We’re all online so much these days…what kind of help can they provide with online resources?

Our Reference Librarians provide a whole host of services — everything from local history and genealogical research, conducting online instruction, answering general reference questions ... while also supporting Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) students, faculty, and staff. For the first quarter of the current fiscal year, reference staff offered over 20 online classes, created online tutorials and answered over 700 reference questions. They have been very busy!

What are you hearing about the situation from your regular patrons?

Of course, everyone wants to know when we will reopen, when the online catalog and patron account access will be restored (now resolved), and how to get a library card to access electronic content. Our community members have been more than supportive and gracious as we make every effort to provide our best customer service in lieu of the challenges. Lovingly prepared trays and baskets of goodies to eat have been dropped off on numerous occasions and emails have been sent wishing us well while also thanking us for persevering.

The library’s offerings for children of all ages is pretty robust. What has the participation level been like during the pandemic?

Our Youth Services programming efforts have actually increased since closing including the new programming I have already mentioned. There are online story times, a series of poetry for young people, online craft making as well as take-and-make crafts we offer as part of curbside service. There is an online teen time, a kids’ coding group and virtual LEGO meetups. Staff have also partnered with other county departments such as Parks & Recreation’s “Holiday in the Park” event where they distributed 200 free books and holiday treat bags to children.

And finally…of course, every time we speak to you, we ask you 1) what you’re reading that you’ve enjoyed, and 2) what recommendations you have for others. What can you share?

In celebration of Black History Month, I am reading “The Souls of Black Folk,” written by W.E.B. DuBois in 1903. I had not read any of his works before and regret not doing so sooner. It is one of the most influential works in African American literature and an American classic. DuBois writes that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line”; a problem in 1903 and still one today, in my opinion.

As for recommendations, our inability to order, receive and process new titles these last several months has put us behind in getting the latest popular fiction and nonfiction on the shelves, but we are working to catch up. I have purchased all of The New York Times best sellers from October to February through OverDrive so they are available electronically. As always, if you have a purchase suggestion there is a form on our website that can be submitted for consideration.

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