Knox County Public Library board members had to delay their regular monthly meeting this week after a Tuesday car crash left the building without power for several hours.
Library director Emily Bunyan, having a good-natured laugh, said the power loss simply joins the laundry list of strange or unfortunate events of the past year, noting the resilience KCPL employees have shown amidst everything from a global pandemic to last April’s unprecedented wind storm.
“It’s a testament to the the resilience of the human spirit,” she said to members of the board before launching into her State of the Library report — one that must be completed annually and submitted to the state.
Bunyan says though no one could have predicted the doors would stay locked for months after closing in March 2020, the library continued on with its mission in new and inventive ways, adapting to the challenges of COVID-19.
Her 2020 report shows that library staff and volunteers created 99 virtual programs, printed more than 500 educational worksheets and worked with local teachers to produce 54 Tutor Team videos to aid students who were completing school work in relative isolation.
KCPL, which serves more than 33,000 people in the taxing district, is the information hub of the county, holding more than 60,000 print books, subscriptions to 125 newspapers and magazines and offers free wifi access.
“Patrons borrowed more than 43,000 items in 2020,” Bunyan said.
Additionally, the library offers help with research as well as access to one of the premier collections of Indiana history and genealogy inside of the McGrady-Brockman building.
The library, Bunyan said proudly, worked hard to meet the needs of the community even through the height of COVID-19 cases.
“We had to use a lot of creative thinking, but in some cases we thrived,” she said. “Through the hardship of the pandemic we turned our scars into stars.”
Too, Bunyan says, library staff are poised to meet the challenges ahead this year.
“In 2021 we’ll continue to cope with the ripple effects of the pandemic,” she said.
For months now, the library has seen an increased demand for its services, specifically in accessing, printing, scanning or faxing important work, government or social service documents.
Bunyan says staff have continued diligently working on ways to address those needs.
On Friday, board members approved a measure that would provide library patrons with access to scanning and faxing services, an idea presented by staff member Paula Smith.
Though the library has long provided access to computers and printing services, Smith told the board last month that COVID-19 means people are not only using technology more than ever before, they are also using it differently.
“For example, more documents are being emailed to people, and they have to print, fill them out and then send them somewhere else,” Smith said of the increase in business that is now conducted digitally.
With some businesses and agencies still closed to the public, and others like the Social Security Administration operating by appointment only, the majority of residents now have to rely on technology to complete and submit important documents.
But for some, there is a barrier to accessing this technology, particularly after the closure of Office Max locally.
“It’s difficult for many people to fax their paperwork in, and some of these agencies require faxing documents.
“With this new service station they could scan and save documents to a USB, email it to themselves or fax it, and they can do it all in one trip,” Smith added.
Initially the library was seeking an all-in-one unit that included a computer, monitor, scanner and fax, at a price of nearly $11,000.
But Smith says in her research she found that a scanner/fax kit could simply be added to one of the library’s current printers.
The Office 360 expansion kit will provide scanning and faxing at a cost of only $650, saving roughly $10,000 from the initial estimates of equipment upgrades.
“This seems like a no-brainer to me,” said board member Rama Sobhani.
Board members also approved a measure to use funds to pay for two library staff members to become certified notaries.
KCPL board president Yvette Kirchoff said, at such a nominal fee, and with so many patrons coming in and requesting the service, it simply makes good sense to have staff members who can fill that void.
“It’s only a $100 fee, which is a lifetime fee, and we’re doing a lot of document executions for patrons and have a lot of requests for notaries,” Kirchoff said. “I think this is a good idea because it’s another community service we can offer.”