Pandemic led to increase in library online sources

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A national survey finds that libraries are bridging the technology gap even more during a pandemic, and the Hancock County Public Library is also seeing an increase in remote usage.

As the nation celebrates Library Card Sign-up Month this September, a new report from the Public Library Association details how libraries are further extending their technology services and resources in the face of pandemic limitations.

The HCPL is no exception. While electronic resources have been available to Hancock County residents for years, the pandemic focused the library’s efforts even further on remote and home access, offering resources for students, parents, job seekers and more.

During the shutdown, librarians saw a sizable increase in usage of downloadable eBooks and audiobooks from the library’s catalog and from the virtual OverDrive bookshelves. Usage on video- and book-streaming platforms, Kanopy and Hoopla, also increased.

April 2019 compared with April 2020 showed a 29 percent rise in overall digital usage, according to a press release from the HCPL. May 2019 compared with May 2020 showed a 20 percent rise. So far, 2021 usage has increased by 25.7 percent.

The local data is on trend with national data. The PLA reports more than half of public libraries circulate technology for patrons off-site.

Survey data, captured for the first time, show more than half of public libraries report circulating technology (e.g., hotspots, laptops, and tablets) for patron use off-site.

“Library workers make technology more accessible for every person of every age in our communities, including students, jobseekers, and the millions of Americans who still lack broadband access and skills,” PLA President Melanie Huggins said. “The new survey report details how our nation’s public libraries serve as critical infrastructure for bridging digital divides, empowering lifelong learning, and advancing economic recovery.”

The HCPL increased the availability of home internet access by making hotspots available for checkout. And now, instead of limiting public Wi-Fi to library business hours, local residents can connect their devices from parking spaces nearest to the buildings any time.

Library patrons took immediate advantage of extended Wi-Fi access during the shutdown. Local residents even connected to the library’s free Ancestry.com subscription from the parking lot for genealogy work.

Hancock County residents increased language learning through the library’s Mango app in 2020 during the height of the pandemic shut-down. They also increased investment research through Value Line.

Usage of digital resources has also jumped as the result of a successful partnership between the library and local schools. Now every student in Hancock County is automatically assigned a digital library card upon school registration.

Parents still engaged in virtual schooling can use Novelist to find materials for each child’s reading level and can request booklists curated by librarians from the website, hcplibrary.org. Students can also get homework assistance from live tutors through Brainfuse.

Tried-and-true in-person events like children’s storytimes and reading clubs shifted to digital during the pandemic out of necessity. Today, many of these programs are still available on YouTube and Facebook Watch. The library was able to host its annual “Battle of the Books” for the county’s eighth- and ninth-grade students as a virtual event last spring; and currently, for many in-person events at the library, livestreaming is an available option.

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The Hancock County Public Library will honor “Library Card Sign-up Month” by launching a passport program starting today, Sept. 1, to waive fees and potentially earn prizes.

Hancock County residents can pick up a passport from the information desk at either library branch and get a punch every time they complete one of four easy tasks. Each punch earns $1 off current or future fines, up to $4 and is redeemable through Dec. 31. The first punch simply requires residents to show their current library card or apply for one; the card is free. After four punches, participants can fill out the bottom stub of the passport and enter to win prize drawings for an experience bundle, which includes family memberships to the Indianapolis Zoo and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. There are four drawings, four bundle winners. The deadline to punch passports and enter drawings is September 30, 2021.

The Hancock County Public Library is located at 900 W. McKenzie Rd. in Greenfield and at 5731 W. US 52 in New Palestine. For more information, visit www.hcplibrary.org.

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