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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely library busier than ever

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/15/20

ELY – While the library here, and others across the state, abruptly closed the doors this spring over public health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic, the staff is busier than ever as …

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Ely library busier than ever

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ELY – While the library here, and others across the state, abruptly closed the doors this spring over public health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic, the staff is busier than ever as community members take advantage of many ongoing services.
The doors remain closed to the public, but curbside delivery of library items remains strong, according to Director Rachel Heinrich, who told city council members last week that the number of patrons being served under the current model is almost double the amount of library users that could be served following the best models for “COVID-19 safe” access.
According to her report to the Library Board last month, Heinrich said that within the northeast Minnesota region two libraries have remained closed completely during the pandemic. Since the initial mid-March emergency order, five small libraries have opened their doors with some restrictions, and three libraries are offering some curbside service and limited in-person access.
As many as 16 community libraries, including the Ely Public Library, are offering just curbside delivery of library items. The Ely facility plans to continue the current model at least through the completion of the next library board meeting, she said.
Heinrich reported that she has been participating in virtual discussions with other library staff across the state and the country about the coronavirus situation and whether to remain closed or open to the public.
“There seems to be an overwhelming consensus from the libraries who are allowing the public into their libraries that all of their staff time is spent cleaning,” she said. “They can either offer access to the circulating items and perhaps one computer, or offer access to the computers but not the books.”
She calculated that if Ely used the best models on how many patrons could be allowed physical access to the library, with access time limited to 45 minutes and allowing for about 15 minutes of cleaning time between access times, they could serve about 56 individuals in any given day in a open-for-business scenario.
“With our curbside system running we can serve up to 96 households, and that includes everybody in the family,” Heinrich told council members. The library board agreed to continue with the current model at least through July.
Online e-circulation of books, audios, and magazines continues to be offered. Loan periods for library materials have been extended region-wide to account for those libraries that are closed to the public, she said.
“You will not need to worry about returning items while the library is closed to the public, however, our book drop will be available if you choose to make a return,” she said.
All library material pickups are conducted in a no-contact manner at scheduled times.  Items may be placed on hold in advance online or requested when patrons call to schedule a pickup time.  Patrons may also request that the staff choose books for them. 
Phone calls to the library at 218-365-5140 will be answered from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.
The library’s wi-fi is available in the parking lot and on the lawn.  The password is on the front door.
“If you have never used any of these services, now might be a great time to try them out. We can give you more information when you call,” she said.
“We realize that it can be hard to choose books with curbside service, especially when you don’t know what’s available,” Heinrich said. “Our new-arrivals shelves are very full right now, so we took some photos to help people know what we now have.” Nearly a dozen images appear on the library’s Facebook page.
The Ely Public Library’s website, www.elylibrary.org, also lists new items available.
Summer reading programming is going stronger than ever, Heinrich said.
“We have more than 90 registrations for kids and have given out between 45 and 75 activity packets each week. Our story stroll activity on the Trezona Trail is also proving to be very popular,” she said.
Library TV
Storytime productions appear daily on the Ely Public Library Facebook page. Library clerks Jesse Dunn and Tricia Flake have written, produced, filmed and starred in about 120 such videos since mid-March that have developed quite a following in the digital world.
They use a variety of props and costumes made from materials that are scrounged at home or around the library.
“We use packing material and boxes and for our crafts for kids, we use lots of paper plates, straws and toilet paper rolls,” Jesse said.
They work to post a new video every day and take turns coming up with themes and activities.
Filming for each segment takes about 20 minutes.
“Once we get started, we just keep going,” Tricia said. “We don’t rehearse, we just improvise and make it up sometimes as we go along. We always have lots of fun.”
Each segment starts with a grand introduction. On a recent “Day at the Circus” theme, Tricia rode onto the set on her unicycle.
“I can do much better if I’m outside,” she quipped.
Juggling and other feats of skill were featured. They will typically read three stories aloud and sing a song. A craft project segment is filmed separately.
“We have an almost endless supply of ideas from our children’s book shelves,” Jesse said. The duo was a little hesitant to say they could do story time forever, or until the library re-opens, whichever comes first.

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