The Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library. 

As Sarasota County's 11 public libraries have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, library staff have been working behind the scenes to provide the community with resources to stay connected. Recent funding from Florida Humanities and a partnership with Google are allowing the library system to offer more books, and free virtual classes through its website.

 The Life, Liberty + Libraries Grant has awarded county libraries $2,100 to purchase democracy and civics-themed books. This grant falls in theme with a new traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History called Votes and Voices: Democracy in America, which will educate on voting rights and history. The exhibit will open at the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library later this year. 

The library system also has become partners with the Grow with Google program, a series of free virtual classes in topics like digital literacy, career development, technology skills and business assistance. Sarasota County library director Renee DiPilato says this partnership came at the right time, as county unemployment rates rise and local businesses adjust.

"We are really excited to be partnering with Google to provide classes for businesses and individuals in need during this time," says DiPilato. "We are also hoping to apply for grants with Google in the future." 

While locations are still closed, the library's curbside pickup has allowed patrons to put books on hold and reserve an appointment to pick them up. More than 8,500 orders have been placed for books and other materials, and more than 19,600 books have been in circulation since the service began.  

"People are really pleased with the service," says DiPilato. "It's a great way to stay connected while we determine what the next few months will look like." 

Library staff are looking forward to welcoming guests in person once again, but with new CDC guidelines and social distancing in place. DiPilato says some locations will modify floor plans, removing furniture and adding plexiglass at service points. The online programs will continue as part of the library's resources.

To keep yourself busy in the meantime, the libraries' summer reading plan is now open. Virtual story times and music concerts for all ages will continue virtually, as well. DIY crafting kits will also be available for curbside pickup soon. 

"Both the grant and partnership highlight two different needs in the community right now," says DiPilato. "Those interested in civic engagement will have resources, and people in need will benefit from Google's classes, too." 

For more information about Sarasota County Library System online resources, click here, or call (941) 861-5000. 

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