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Humanities During the Pandemic

Lodi Public Library

Public libraries offer so many opportunities for people to engage with history, culture, and ideas—on bookshelves, in community spaces, and even at home.

 

“The library does function as kind of a citadel to the humanities,” says Alex LeClair, director of the Lodi Public Library in southwest Wisconsin. “We welcome in as much cultural variety for the most people as possible, given what the community is interested in and what we have the resources to provide.”

Like many other libraries across Wisconsin, the Lodi Public Library faced major resource challenges this spring, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The library is one of several in the state that Wisconsin Humanities supported through emergency CARES grants.

“The CARES grant money helps us in spirit,” LeClair says, “but it also helps us in practical ways.” The funds have helped the Lodi Public Library at several key points. When the building had to close and staff started working from home, those funds helped pay for subscriptions to online communication tools like Slack and Zoom.

The next big challenge was preparing for the library’s reopening, which took place on June 1st. To ensure the building would be a safe and welcoming space for all, LeClair and his staff put up acrylic shields at the circulation desk, purchased hand sanitizer, and paid for a deep cleaning of the entire building.

One of LeClair’s biggest worries was that all those new expenses would make it impossible to purchase new library materials. “I’d already cut the materials budget by $3,000 from last year to this year, since we didn’t get an increase in our budget,” he says. “Things like the acrylic shields, the software, the hand sanitizer—all those things add up. They basically have to come out of the materials budget, because that’s where I have some discretion.”

But, as LeClair put it, “It was a big relief to get that relief grant.” Because CARES funds helped pay for necessary supplies, the library can continue to provide materials that patrons want most, such as new novels. The funds are also going toward materials for a new library program called Vault Forward.

“It's a loyalty program, like you might see at a coffee shop,” explains LeClair. “We're going to start with story time. After every fifth story time, the child or family gets to pick a book from our Book Vault to keep. The vault also holds books and prizes for other programs down the road—when we start to offer programs again.”

Although it’s still uncertain when many public programs will resume, we know that Lodi and other public libraries in Wisconsin will find creative ways to keep providing engaging humanities experiences to all.

Want to learn more about the Lodi Public Library? Visit their website at https://www.lodipubliclibrary.org/.
(They just launched a redesign this spring, while staff was working from home!).

Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.