Clichés are overused and unoriginal, but they have truth on their side. The Chinese language uses the same word for both “obstacle” and “opportunity”; a glass can be half-full and half-empty; every coin has two sides.
These phrases sound trite, but if applied to how the Beaufort County Library System has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are apropos.
“No matter what changes in the world around us, and no matter how the library’s programs and services must adapt through it all, one thing is constant: the Beaufort County Library will continue to find ways to serve its community – inside and outside of our buildings – for learning, for leisure, for life,” said Amanda Dickman, interim library director of Beaufort County Library System.
Due to pandemic closures, beginning last March, the number of visitors through their doors in 2020 dropped by 69% from 558,758 to 173,992, but that in no way means that folks aren’t taking advantage of their library cards.
A free library card opens up a world of opportunity despite COVID restrictions – e-books, audio books, magazines, music, movies, TV shows, unlimited access to Ancestry.com, curbside pickup for books, hundreds of digital classes taught by premier industry leaders, and even grab-and-go activity kits for children to do at home.
Mary Jo Berkes, manager of the Hilton Head Branch Library, emphasized that safety precautions are in place. A door monitor ensures that capacity is kept at 50% occupancy, and masks and sanitizers are readily available.
“The staff is cautious and both our patrons and staff are relieved that we are now open for business,” Berkes said. “Our job is to be an information center – on the phone, in person or through emails. When we can help somebody, it feels good and that’s the fun part of our jobs.”
Berkes said their phones had been busy during the pandemic, with questions of all kinds. Recently, she said, “I got a call about where to get a COVID vaccine appointment that I was happy to help with. Once I even got a call from a gentleman who couldn’t figure out how to navigate our rotary and needed directions.”
“Our patrons are so glad they have access to services,” said Kitti McKean, manager of the Bluffton Branch. “People do come in to use the computers. We normally have 16, but because of social distancing we have four. People really appreciate access to our digital services.”
McKean added, “Everyone has different comfort levels when dealing with COVID. If it’s curbside, email, phone, or in-person, we’ll find a way to provide services safely. Just call.”
The Beaufort County Library system offers five digital programs. In 2020, digital circulations totaled 170,419, an increase of 44% over 2019.
Hoopla circulations, which include e-books, e-audio books, TV, movies and music, boasted a 54% increase. CloudLibrary (e-book and e-audio books) grew 26%; and Flipster (digital magazines) had a 29% increase.
Usage of Ancestry.com grew a whopping 295% because of free, in-home availability. A brand new offering is Lynda.com, which offers a wealth of web-based learning such as Microsoft Word and Excel, how to build a website, marketing strategies, and many more, all free.
The libraries closed from mid-March till mid-June, so a new curbside service was begun in May to safely provide books to customers. More than 22,000 deliveries were made, and the library plans to continue this service even after the pandemic is over.
In addition, in response to the closure, residents are now able to sign up for a library card completely online at beaufortcountylibrary.org/get-a-library-card. Once registered, library staff will email your account number and a temporary password for online programs within 72 hours.
New library cards were issued to 7,266 people in 2019, while only 4,108 were issued in 2020, a 43% decrease, but 1,870 of the cards issued were done online.
“Beaufort County Library System is very fortunate across the state,” Dickman said. “Other counties have had to close due to COVID exposure or incidence. We are thankful to our staff, our patrons and our community for wearing masks and following safety protocols. We are also very fortunate to have retained staffing levels with no layoffs.”
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.