John Jermain Memorial Library Tackles Library Service In the Time of COVID-19

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The Little Free Library at Sag Harbor's John Jermain Memorial Library continues to offer hard copy books. Gavin Menu

Patrons of Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library this week enjoyed Tea Talk with librarians and a Zumba class. Teens checked in for math help on Tuesday, and on Thursday, the library’s Great Decisions foreign policy discussion will continue with a 7 p.m. talk on climate change.

And that is just a handful of the online programming being offered to patrons via johnjermain.org with the doors of Sag Harbor’s historic library shuttered since March 13 due to the COVID-19 virus.

While the library will remain physically closed, at least through April 29, John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon said in an interview last week she is still giving out library cards to new patrons, working with staff to continue to provide robust programming, as well as a running list of frequently asked questions and resources about the virus pandemic on the library homepage.

Books are being checked out digitally, and the library’s Little Free Library, named for Sag Harbor resident and JJML supporter Shana R. Conron, remains stocked with a variety of titles.

“My staff has just been amazing,” said Ms. Creedon. “They have really risen to the occasion.”

Ms. Creedon said staff began preparing for an anticipated closure the last weekend in February.

“We already had a lot of protocols put in place and my staff already knew that my expectation was we would be working at home, so everyone already had projects started,” said Ms. Creedon. “We have a younger staff than we did a decade ago, and they are pushing and pulling me into the 21st century.”

And that has paid off for patrons, Ms. Creedon said, during a time where sharing information resources is more critical than ever and the library’s role as a community center must manifest itself digitally.

The FAQ page, updating community members on the latest news and resources on the virus outbreak, is updated daily by the collective team, which has also been working to ensure that programming continues, via online classes at johnjermain.org.

“We have our bilingual math tutor working with teens,” said Ms. Creedon. “We have our Baby Beats class with local musician Kate Hirschman. We are doing one-on-one reference by phone. We have two recorded preschool story times each week and are running an art class with Roisin Bateman. Susan Scarf Merrell has been teaching a class on the new translation of the ‘Odyssey.’”

Most classes are either pre-recorded or held live via a Zoom or Google online platform, said Ms. Creedon.

Local history librarian Rebecca Grabie has also begun a COVID-19 Sag Harbor archive for the library, a project she began in earnest on March 6 and one she will continue to work on throughout the pandemic.

“She’s been collecting photographs, videos, takeout menus and digitizing everything,” said Ms. Creedon. “Going forward that will be, I think, a real testament to the community of Sag Harbor and how we survived this period.”

The biggest concern, said Ms. Creedon, is how the library continues to provide services for those with limited internet access who often used JJML as a place to access digital resources, or the homeless or immigrant communities that came to rely on the library’s physical space.

“That is something we are still trying to figure out,” said Ms. Creedon, adding that staff members have personally been calling those who may have needs to see how the library can help, and to make sure that WiFi is available to anyone who brings their computer, tablet or phone and sits outside the library building, including in the recessed garden next to the lower level entrance.

“And anyone can get a temporary library card that we will upgrade to a permanent card,” she said. “There is a really great Libby application for your phone that will allow you to access databases of free movies and books.”

And history, she noted, has shown the library and the community will find a way through this.

Ms. Creedon has already revisited the library’s archive from 1918, during the throes of a historic flu pandemic.

“We are an institution that is over 100 years old and our records show that the library was closed for three weeks during the flu epidemic of 1918, so there is this lovely sense — and I know lovely doesn’t feel like the right word right now — but there is a lovely sense that although it’s unprecedented in our lifetime, the library knows how to serve and be there when we rebuild, whether that is hosting support sessions for the Chamber of Commerce, or working with the food pantry, which we already have an established relationship with.”

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