Escape rooms in libraries are popular activities for families, providing free, interactive entertainment for people of all ages. But unfortunately, COVID-19 has put in-person library programs on hold. Some librarians have found creative ways to safely continue the fun during the pandemic, like Sydney Krawiec at Peters Township Public Library in Pennsylvania, who created a Google Doc-based Harry Potter escape room that anyone can play online. Wisconsin’s McMillan Memorial Library has taken a different approach: staff set up a no-touch, outdoor escape room that community members can enjoy while maintaining social distancing.
McMillan started hosting in-person escape rooms back in 2019. Their early efforts—including a Mario-themed escape room and a game based around a janitor’s closet—were a huge hit, so staff had been all set to continue the fun for summer 2020 when the pandemic hit. Still, the McMillan team was determined to find a way to keep their community engaged during COVID, so staffers Karmen Kelly, Alicia Lamont, and Deb Drollinger set about creating a quarantine-friendly escape room.
They found a home for the escape room in a rarely used corridor outside the library, which they’ve decorated using sidewalk chalk. While traditional escape rooms tend to have players manipulate locks and other physical props, this one is touch-free for the safety of participants. Instead, they interact with the game through an online form on their own mobile devices as well as a set of game pieces that they can take home afterward. Their mission? Figure out the relationship between the game pieces and the chalk drawings in the space in order to spell out a word.
The McMillan staff based the escape room around the library’s 2020 summer reading theme, Imagine Your Story. “Since all of our stories are now connected through a common COVID thread, we decided to lean into all of the aspects of the pandemic,” Karmen Kelly told I Love Libraries. “The end result encourages the idea that this isn't the story we would have imagined, but much like the caterpillar in the cocoon, we too can emerge stronger and better than ever. What we do now will allow us to become the proverbial butterfly as we imagine the next chapter of our story.” Fittingly, participants leave the escape room with crafting instructions for how to turn the game pieces they used into a model of a butterfly.
“It's been such a morale booster for everyone involved, especially when we see the families that get to enjoy our creation,” Kelly shared. “In a world filled with masks, social distancing, fear, and confusion, it brings us so much joy to offer a positive team-building activity for our community to enjoy.”
With people everywhere staying home to curb the spread of COVID-19, individuals of all ages are turning to screens for entertainment, information, and socialization. While digital media has been a lifeline during these unprecedented times, parents and caregivers may be wondering what online videos, apps, and games are best for their families. Fortunately, your local children’s library professional is there to help you make savvy, informed choices for your household’s media consumption.
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)’s #LookToLibraries campaign shares extensive resources for how caregivers can lean on their libraries for media mentorship. Media mentors work with families to find high-quality videos and websites, share tips for digital privacy and information literacy, and create media plans for how and when to use screens at home. Library professionals are experts in these topics and are happy to connect with your family online or over the phone during the pandemic.
“Children’s library professionals know how to find high-quality content that reflects our diverse community’s experiences and grows young people’s understanding and empathy for others,” Claudia Haines, youth services librarian at Alaska’s Homer Public Library, told I Love Libraries. “We appreciate the unusual circumstances many families find themselves in as a result of the pandemic and consider families’ unique experiences when recommending resources and offering learning programs in different formats.”
Library staff are also uniquely equipped to help others in their community learn media mentorship skills. “The most rewarding aspect of my media mentorship work right now is empowering teens to be mentors for each other and younger kids,” Haines shared. “In the process, they are growing their own media literacy skills, advocating for youth in our community, becoming effective, empathetic communicators, and acting as positive role models.”
These are overwhelming times, but your library is here to support you during the pandemic and beyond; don’t be too hard on yourself if you need help managing your family’s screen time and media choices. “Everything you are feeling is OK. We are living in the midst of a global pandemic with no end in sight—you don’t have to keep it all together!” ALSC president Kirby McCurtis told I Love Libraries. “It’s hard to evaluate the sources and appropriateness for children quickly. Media mentors’ goal is not to judge, but to help parents and caregivers understand the context and if the content is right for their child.”
This September, we’re celebrating Library Card Sign-up Month, a yearly reminder of all the ways registering for a library card can change someone’s life for the better.
We asked I Love Libraries readers and the American Library Association’s social media followers to share what they love most about having a library card. Here are a few of our favorite responses:
“Access to new and classic books and films is terrific, but best part is access to awesome bright reference librarians who help me whatever inquiry, curiosity, or problem I need to learn more about. They are my first step often when I need to learn more, they are most often, kind, patient, curious, and clever in looking up helpful information. It's true librarians are our friends.”—KD S.
“The best thing about having a library card is the access to online library reference e-sources. I am a teacher and I use Mango Languages to improve my language learning abilities. Through this free resource offered by my library, I am able to communicate better with my students who are learning English.”—Colleen H.
“As someone who never had a library card before I started working for a public library, I cannot believe the power it gives me. Resources and multi-media access to everything, from databases to newly-release audio books, right at my fingertips—and for free! It gives this thrifty bookworm an instant dose of happiness.”—Krista C.
“A library card is like a skeleton key to the whole universe. It unlocks not only the infinite knowledge and resources available at libraries, but every beautiful, complex, handcrafted universe ever created in a story.”—Emma H.
“I spent a lot of my youth at my local library. Having a library card at such a young age just meant that you were ready to have this newfound responsibility of checking out and taking care of books. It allowed a poor family like mine to consume media through wonderful literature, and rental videos. Having a library card allowed me to discover my love for libraries and admire the lengths librarians go to provide resources for the community. Having a library card was like having a key to freedom.”—Anna E.
“Audiobooks. I am always on the go and tear through these faster and more consistently than regular books. I just discovered Jason Reynolds and am awaiting my next hold!”—Wendy M.
“I got my first library card when I was 5, and felt like I got the jackpot! Then I got pregnant at 19. I had never held or been around a baby. I did library research. When my daughter was born, she slept through the night because of the research I'd done! Then last year I had a bike accident, where I could not go to the library, and discovered ebooks. Now, with the pandemic, my library is offering curbside service!”—Kristin B.
“I have been an eager library user for 62 years. It's been there to provide inspiration, education, and consolation. I've learned to garden, run a business, train a horse, butcher chickens, raise kids, and so much more. I do not know how I would survive without my local library!”—Cindy H.
“The best thing about a library card is all the worlds it opens to you. You can travel all over by reading about other countries, listening to world music, and watching videos in other languages. Diving into a good book can take you to fantastic places where COVID -19 doesn't exist, even if it's only for a short while.”—Mary D.
“Having a library card is like having an all access pass to everything, everywhere! More than that, however, my card reminds of the many Saturday mornings spent with my dad, as he patiently drove me back and forth to my favorite library, even though there was a branch within walking distance of our house!”—Linda H.
Calling all book clubs: library users nationwide can download ebook copies of Lauren Francis-Sharma’s Book of the Little Axe without holds or waitlists through September 28. Thanks to the Libraries Transform Book Pick, a program of the American Library Association and OverDrive, readers everywhere can discuss this stunning novel with their communities.
Book of the Little Axe is a powerful saga spanning decades and oceans from Trinidad to the American West, all during the tumultuous days of warring colonial powers and westward expansion. In a starred review, Booklist said Francis-Sharma “offers fascinating characters across the broad sweep of the American continent at a time of great tumult, warring colonial powers, the spread of slavery, and expansion West” and described the story as a “compelling saga of family bonds, ambitions, and desires, all subject to the vagaries of powerful historical forces.”
To access the Book Pick, all you have to do is download the Libby app and log in with your public library card. If you don’t have a library card yet, never fear: many libraries allow you to register for a digital card online. September is Library Card Sign-up Month, so it’s the perfect time to explore all the incredible free resources your local branch has to offer.
Once you start reading, you can join the national conversation about Book of the Little Axe on social media using the hashtag #LTBookPick. If you’re discussing the novel in a book club, this reading group guide is full of great questions to spark dialogue. And if you’re looking for more fantastic reads like this one, Booklist has an extensive read-alikes list with fiction and non-fiction recommendations.
Reading is a powerful way to access information, entertainment, and education, but for some people with disabilities, traditional print books can be difficult or even impossible to use. That’s why libraries across the country are working to make literature and news accessible for people who cannot see or handle traditional books or magazines.
In the 1930s, Congress established the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) to provide free accessible reading materials to Americans with low vision. Over the years, the program has expanded to offer new technologies like refreshable braille displays, as well as broadening its eligibility requirements to include people who aren’t blind but have other disabilities that make it challenging to read print.
Materials circulate through a network of regional libraries and outreach centers that serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Thanks to a special provision of national copyright law, these libraries are able to share extensive collections of popular books and magazines in audio, braille, and ebraille format. The NLS program also provides readers with free playback devices called talking books, which play audiobooks aloud.
The NLS library includes Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL), which loans accessible books from all genres to people with disabilities across Washington state. They also supplement the national NLS collection by producing their own braille and audio versions of books about the Pacific Northwest or written by local authors; volunteer readers help record the audiobooks in-house. WTBBL also keeps the statewide community engaged through technology trainings, book clubs, author talks, and poetry contests.
“Libraries are community centers. They are places of opportunity and unfettered access to information, and they are critical to our way of life,” WTBBL director Danielle Miller told I Love Libraries. “However, people who cannot read print, or get to the library, or don’t have a computer face significant barriers to accessing information and reading materials.”
Nashville Talking Library volunteers Mark Campbell and Bonnie Dobbins, pictured in one of NPL's recording studios. Photo courtesy of Nashville Public Library.
In addition to the nationally available materials from the NLS, many Americans with disabilities also have access to audio information services offered through universities and libraries. Nashville Public Library (NPL), for example, administers the Nashville Talking Library, which provides 24/7 audio content to Middle Tennessee residents with reading disabilities. They can tune in via a special radio receiver, streaming, or telephone to hear a mix of magazines, newspapers, and books read aloud by volunteers.
Each morning, listeners can enjoy an audio version of that day’s Tennessean, Nashville’s daily paper. As the day goes on, they’ll hear magazine articles and segments from books, usually recent bestsellers or titles relating to Tennessee; books are read one hour at a time, airing every weekday until they’re finished. Volunteers produce the content in NPL’s recording studios—the group is a diverse mix of retirees, younger people, and former or aspiring voice actors.
Michael Wagner, Nashville Talking Library program specialist, credits these volunteers with helping make the initiative possible. “They’re some of the nicest, most dedicated people. [Working with them] is like a dream job,” he told I Love Libraries. The Nashville community played a particularly key role in keeping the Nashville Talking Library running during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when NPL was closed even to staff and volunteers: Music City residents with in-home recording studios stepped up to produce audio content while the library facilities were inaccessible.
Sandy Cohen, NPL’s equal access manager, says her favorite thing about the Nashville Talking Library is “making libraries more accessible to the population of people with disabilities.” Staff have also loved seeing the talking library bring the community together. Once, a listener was visiting the Tennessee State Capitol and heard a familiar voice nearby; as it turned out, a Nashville Talking Library volunteer happened to be in the same tour group. The listener was thrilled to meet a volunteer they’d heard read countless hours of books and articles and to have the chance to say thank you in person.
The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library has been similarly transformative for patrons, Danielle Miller shared. “Nearly every day patrons and their families tell us how vital our services are to them,” she said. “One of my favorite notes I’ve ever received was from a senior patron who said that when she lost her sight and could no longer read, she felt like she was starving, but when she found our service and our audiobooks, it was like suddenly being at a buffet.”
Library lovers across the country are joining the festivities by helping spread the word about the value of a library card. Here are a few ways you can participate:
Remind Your Loved Ones to Get Library Cards
Challenge yourself: how many friends, relatives, colleagues, and classmates can you persuade to register for a library card in September? Remind the people in your life that signing up for a library card is free and easy, since many libraries are allowing for online registration during the pandemic. Send them this article highlighting all the coolest benefits of having a library card to help make your case.
Join the Fun on Social Media
Libraries and their supporters are using the hashtag #LibraryCardSignUpMonth on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help get the word out about the value of a library card. The Library Card Sign-up Month website has tons of sample social media posts and amazing graphics featuring LCSUM Honorary Chair Wonder Woman (!) available for free download.
Let your neighbors know you’re a proud library card holder with these awesome yard signs from the American Library Association. Pick your favorite sign—options include “library card holders live here” and “in this house, we support libraries”—or design your own, then print and display to jazz up your yard.
Participate in Library Card Sign-up Month Bingo
How many squares on this LCSUM bingo card can you check off in September? It’s chock full of fun challenges to get in the Library Card Sign-up Month spirit, from using your library to access free digital magazines to writing a thank you note to your favorite librarian. Once you’ve hit bingo, show off your card on social media using the hashtag #LibraryCardSignUp.
Has a librarian made a difference in your life? Now is your chance to say thank you: nominations for the prestigious I Love My Librarian Award are open through November 9.
Each year, the I Love My Librarian Award recognizes 10 outstanding librarians with a $5000 prize and the honor of a lifetime. Leaders from the American Library Association (ALA) select the winners from thousands of nominations from library users—and your librarian could be next.
I Love My Librarian awardees receive national media attention, shining a well-deserved spotlight on their amazing library. Winners will also be honored at a virtual award ceremony during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in January 2021 and receive complimentary conference registration as part of their prize package.
Bookmarks is a collection of 12 episodes featuring different Black celebrities—including Tiffany Haddish, Common, and Jill Scott—reading children’s books from Black authors. The videos are designed to showcase the Black experience and spark broader conversations about identity, respect, justice, and action.
Featured titles include Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Award winner Firebird (written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers), as well as CSK honorees Sulwe (written by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison) and Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James).
To supplement the series, librarians from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association have put together a list of engaging activities for young readers, and members of the Association for Library Service to Children have shared links to resources about how families can connect with children’s library professionals to support their kids’ learning and development. These materials are all available on the Bookmarks website.
A New York Times op-ed from sociologist Eric Klinenberg explores libraries how could help ensure a fair and just U.S. election by offering ballot collection boxes for patrons who wish to vote early.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, millions of Americans are planning to vote by mail rather than risk COVID-19 exposure at crowded polling places on Election Day. Still, many are their mail-in ballots may not arrive in time to be counted.
Klinenberg, a professor at New York University and author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, argues that libraries can play an important role.
“Libraries already serve as polling places on Election Day throughout the country and, crucially, they provide secure, monitored ballot boxes where absentee voters can drop off their ballots before Nov. 3 and know that it will count,” he explains in the New York Times. “Secure boxes for absentee ballots are already available at some libraries in states like California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Utah, and Washington. Other states should follow suit.”
Ballot boxes allow voters to personally drop off their ballot in a secure setting all the way up until the polls close on Election Day. They give voters peace of mind, knowing that their ballot won’t encounter any delays or interference on the way to be counted.
America’s thousands of public libraries reach all types of communities and are among our nation’s most-trusted institutions. With that in mind, Klinenberg sees them as the perfect setting for early voting: “Making ballot boxes widely available at libraries and at accessible outdoor places is a safe and inexpensive way for government at all levels to promote our core civic duty.”
“In the movie Moana the people of my island were counting on me, a young girl, to make a difference,” she shares. “Now our communities are counting on each and every one of us, young and old, to make a difference by taking the Census.”
The results of the Census will allocate billions of dollars in federal funding to local communities over the next decade, including more than $1 billion to libraries. The deadline for U.S. households to complete the Census has been extended until at least September 30, so it’s not too late to complete your questionnaire.
As of late August, only 64 percent of U.S. households had completed their Census forms. A complete count is necessary to ensure communities don’t miss out on billions of dollars in crucial funding for libraries, schools, healthcare, and other services—take a few minutes to make sure your household gets counted today.