Library Staff member Jamie Naylor making masks at the Creation Station. 

Like many other organizations, Sarasota County libraries are closed because due to the COVID-19 pandemic—but librarians and staff are still working hard to provide digital services to library patrons.

Virtual story hours, learning resources and creative classes are all being offered, plus exclusive content you can find on the library's website. For example, if you want to get creative, participate in one of the virtual classes through the Creativebug program and make crafts, learn to play an instrument or enjoy other art projects, all from home. For kids, virtual story hours are hosted on the county's Facebook page on Mondays at 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 10 a.m. If you are a high school or college student, take advantage of the resources in the Learning Express program, including test prep and career resources. (Extra content is also available using a student ID number and the school's online portal.)

And if you don't already have a library card, digital cards grant free access to the library's digital content, from e-books to audiobooks and magazines, with an increased limit in content each month. Librarians are also still answering questions over the phone, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and libraries have also implemented a text and online chat feature to help people navigate the technology.  

Renee DiPilato, Sarasota County's director of libraries and historical resources

Image: Gene Pollux

Renee DiPilato, director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources, says the libraries have seen an increase in online involvement—and that it was happening even before the pandemic.

"Even before we closed, we saw a 35 percent increase in digital borrowing," says DiPilato. "More than 1,000 people have applied for digital library cards."

Thirty library staff members are also lending a helping hand to Sarasota County workers by sewing face masks at the libraries' Creation Stations. These stations, funded by the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, are equipped with sewing machines and materials to make more than 5,000 masks, two for each county worker. 

"We are so happy to have funding for this project," says DiPilato. "These 30 staff members have impressive sewing skills, and we hope to exceed our goal."  

Mask making at the Jacaranda Public Library Creation Station. 

Despite physical locations being closed, DiPilato says the county libraries and staff are making every effort to keep people connected and support the community.

"We will continue to develop these programs, and make them available long term," she says, even after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. 

However, she adds, it's hard to deny the value of in-person connection. "People miss us and are anxious for us to reopen," says DiPilato. "We are looking forward to welcoming people back and connecting with them in these new ways." 

 To learn more about Sarasota County Libraries' virtual services, click here

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