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Reading in the time of COVID

In March of 2020, as the novel coronavirus forced Hoosiers to stay inside their homes, residents looked for ways to cope with cabin fever — taking up everything from home fitness routines and jigsaw puzzles, to baking copious amounts of sourdough bread.

Many others turned to books for some healing bibliotherapy during an incredibly difficult year, with 35% of Americans saying they read more during 2020 than they ever have before.

A good book of fiction, at its most basic level, can enmesh the reader in the arc of its story. But more importantly, perhaps, it can shine a light on the challenges of the human condition.

The concept of using books as a form of therapy is one Knox County Public Library Director Emily Bunyan first learned about as a student, and it’s something that stuck with her.

“Bibliotherapy is a term I learned in library school, and it’s resonated with me ever since,” she said, adding that reading can be helpful for many struggling with a range of problems: anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, and even the fear and grief of living through the pandemic.

The concept, as old as Ancient Greece, has — like other art forms — helped countless individuals find their way through hard times.

“Aristotle considered reading ‘medicine for the soul,’ ” said Bunyan. “People can read to soothe their souls during this tumultuous time.”

Bibliotherapy was clearly a coping strategy used globally in 2020, as book and literature e-commerce websites were visited more than 15 billion times in March alone — an 8.5% increase in traffic from the previous month.

As for what books people around the world — and locally — have been reading this past year, apocalyptic fiction, like Stephen King’s 1978 novel “The Stand,” have been popular, and offers its readers the cathartic experience of safely working through the a pandemic world.

Popular too, says Bunyan, have been the works of nonfiction about courageous leaders, like Winston Churchill, as well as those that promote the learning of new skills or health and wellness.

“Patrons are interested in cultivating good health to be less vulnerable to COVID-19,” she said, noting that one of the most sought after books at KCPL in 2020 was “The Plant Paradox Cookbook” by Steven Gundam.

Too, Bunyan said, a handful of local experts created a series of DIY videos for the library’s Facebook page that have been incredibly popular. Instruction on anything from home canning and baking to tire changing have been widely viewed.

Others have used the library’s books as a form of escape from the pandemic, seeking out books like John Connolly’s “Book of Bones,” a 700 page mystery thriller and the most checked out book in 2020 at the local library.

“Like novels in the Harry Potter series, length isn’t a deterrent when readers are those enthralled with a riveting series of books,” Bunyan said.

The youth and teen departments at the library have also seen a surge in readership over the past ten months. While it’s usually the required work of e-learning that brings them through the doors, youngsters often leave the building with a new adventure held on the pages of a borrowed book.

Youth and teen librarian Roger Stremming says that in younger readers, he’s seen many of them, particularly teens, use books as a form of escape.

“I’ve had several readers who wanted to finally start some of our longer fantasy series because they have lots of free time and those series could help fill that space,” he said, adding that one of the most popular now is the “Last Apprentice” series by Joseph Delaney.

In addition to the positive effects and escapism books provide in general, Stremming says the library has a number of resources to help youth understand and deal with stress and trauma.

“We have a great deal of materials in both departments dealing with understanding and expressing emotions. This is super critical for these age groups as we to through an unprecedented time of stress and hardship,” he said.

Though COVID-19’s days of running unchecked are numbered, health officials say the months ahead will still require residents to stay vigilant and socially distanced.

Facing the cold winter months of stress and isolation, many psychologists advocate reading as one positive way to spend part of each day.

Not only does reading improve memory and concentration, and decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, many studies have shown it is incredibly effective at relieving stress. The University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by as much as 68%, working faster than most other relaxation methods.

And with thousands of print materials, the local public library truly has something to meet any interest and need.

For individuals looking for reading that is particularly meaningful at this moment in human history, Bunyan has some personal recommendations.

“I recommend Fareed Zakaria’s ‘10 Lessons for a Post Pandemic World,’ ” she said, adding that another book that was particularly meaningful for her personally is the 1992 book “Care of the Soul” by psychotherapist Thomas Moore.

And, of course, “the epic romance novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marques,” she adds of the story set against the backdrop of a raging cholera epidemic as two lovers are kept apart for more than 50 years.

Yet through those difficulties, readers see that neither a cholera epidemic nor time and distance can extinguish love.

KCDC to embark on housing study

Elected officials and community leaders have for years spoken candidly about the need for more mid-range housing.

Members of the Knox County Development Corp. now plan to find out whether such a need exists or not.

On Friday, during the KCDC board of directors’ monthly meeting, CEO Chris Pfaff outlined the objectives of such a study.

“The consensus has been that we have a bit of a workforce shortage,” Pfaff said. “And if we are to attract new businesses, we have to address the lack of housing.

“We will not prosper without it.”

Pfaff, in a brief presentation to the board via Zoom, said Knox County has experienced decades of either no growth or slow growth in population. That has resulted in little-to-no new construction.

The KCDC’s message, he said, is that “quality housing is essential to economic diversity.”

“We must attract new enterprises, creative entrepreneurs and young households who will become future civic and business leaders,” he said. “These people, as well as the region’s own children and grandchildren, need a place to call home.”

Pfaff said in talking with local officials over the last several months, the perception of a housing shortage runs deep.

It’s a seller’s market, he said, with good homes often selling quickly and above the original asking price.

Officials with Good Samaritan and Vincennes University, even the Vincennes Community School Corp., have often said they lose employees to neighboring counties.

Even existing employees choose to live outside Knox County because the housing stock is healthier.

Locals assume the most urgent need, Pfaff said, are homes between $120,000 and $250,000.

The study, Pfaff explained, will identify whether or not some of these local, common assumptions are true.

Such information would benefit a variety of organizations, he said, specifically the KCDC itself, service providers, builders, employers and city and county government leaders.

Pfaff began seeking entities interested in embarking on a housing study weeks ago. City and county officials as well as VU and Good Samaritan have already signed on to be partners.

The KCDC has already hired Thomas P. Miller and Associates in Indianapolis for the work. It’s possible the study could be done in as little as five months.

Expectations of the study, Pfaff said, would be to properly assess the city’s current housing stock, better understand the gaps within it, and identify the best way to spur the growth found necessary.

The city’s Redevelopment Commission, too, is a partner in the housing study; its members for years have been exploring solutions to the perceived lack of mid-range housing, and only recently they took action.

The RDC last month approved a gift of $342,000 to three local families operating as REM Development Group, ones planning to convert the floors of the Oliphant building into condominiums and build new residential and commercial space on the adjacent Gimbel Corner at Second and Main streets.

The RDC, too, has committed another $218,000 in infrastructure costs associated with about 14 homes Sure Clean Inc. is looking to build in an area of Hart Street. That project is set to get underway as early as next month.

And members are now considering a third housing project after being approached last month by Butch and Eric Niehaus with Niehaus Companies, which specializes in building materials, about a proposed housing complex dubbed Lincoln Heights.

The Niehaus brothers are preparing to purchase multiple lots adjacent to Quail Run Road, specifically behind Herman Family Dentistry.

The plan, they told the RDC, is to work with builders to construct as many as 129 homes in that space. But as their financial request is much larger — $2.3 million in anticipated infrastructure costs — RDC members are moving slowly.

Deadly siege focuses attention on Capitol Police

WASHINGTON (AP) — The police were badly outnumbered.

Only a few dozen guarded the West front of the U.S. Capitol when they were rushed by thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators bent on breaking into the building.

Armed with metal pipes, pepper spray and other weapons, the mob pushed past the thin police line, and one protester hurled a fire extinguisher at a officer, according to video widely circulated on YouTube.

“They’re getting into the Capitol tonight! They’re getting in," the man filming shouts in delight.

They breached the line moments later, and rioters soon broke into the building, taking over the House and Senate chambers and running wild in Statuary Hall and other hallowed symbols of democracy. The mob ransacked the place, smashing windows and waving Trump, American and Confederate flags. The lawmakers who were voting to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory were forced into hiding for hours.

Throughout the melee, police officers were injured, mocked, ridiculed and threatened. One Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died Thursday night from injuries suffered during the riot. The melee was instigated by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump who have professed their love of law enforcement and derided the mass police reform protests that shook the nation last year following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We backed you guys in the summer," one protester screamed at three officers backed against a door by dozens of men screaming for them to get out of their way. "When the whole country hated you, we had your back!”

The rampage shocked the world and left the country on edge, forcing the resignations of three top Capitol security officials over the failure to stop the breach. Lawmakers have demanded a review of operations and an FBI briefing over what they called a “terrorist attack.”

Sicknick was the fifth person to die because of the Capitol protest violence.

One protester, a woman from California, was shot to death by Capitol Police, and three other people died after “medical emergencies” related to the breach, including at least who died of an apparent heart attack.

Sicknick, 42, was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher during a struggle, two law enforcement officials said, although it was not clear if he was the officer shown in the video. The officials could not discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Another disturbing video shows a bloodied police officer screaming for help as he’s crushed by protesters inside the Capitol building. The young officer is pinned between a riot shield and metal door. Bleeding from the mouth, he cries out in pain and screams, “Help!”

Other images show police completely overwhelmed by protesters who shoved, kicked and punched their way into the building. In one stunning video, a lone police officer tries to hold off a mob of demonstrators from cracking into the lobby. He fails.

Protesters attacked police with pipes, sprayed irritants and even planted live bombs found in the area.

Sicknick's family said Friday that he had wanted to be a police officer his entire life. He served in the New Jersey Air National Guard before joining the Capitol Police in 2008. Many details regarding the incident remain unknown, and Sicknick’s family urged the public and news media not to make his death a political issue.

Still, the riot — and Sicknick's death — focused renewed attention on Capitol Police, a force of more than 2,300 officers and civilian employees that protects the Capitol, lawmakers, staff and visitors. The agency has an annual budget of about $515 million.

Three days before the riot, the Pentagon offered National Guard manpower. And as the mob descended on the building Wednesday, Justice Department leaders reached out to offer up FBI agents. Capitol Police turned them down both times, according to senior defense officials and two people familiar with the matter.

Despite plenty of warnings of a possible insurrection and ample resources and time to prepare, police planned only for a free speech demonstration.

Like many other agencies, the Capitol Police have been hit hard by COVID-19, with frequent schedule changes for officers and many forced to work overtime to fill out rosters. The pandemic has put the police under strain going into the new session of Congress and the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned Thursday under pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders, defended his department’s response, saying officers “acted valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions.” Two other top security officials, Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, also resigned.

By Friday, prosecutors had filed 14 cases in federal district court and 40 others in the District of Columbia Superior Court for a variety of offenses ranging from assaulting police officers to entering restricted areas of the U.S. Capitol, stealing federal property and threatening lawmakers. Prosecutors said additional cases remained under seal, dozens of other people were being sought by federal agents and the U.S. attorney in Washington vowed that “all options were on the table” for charges, including possibly sedition.

Among those charged was Richard Barnett, an Arkansas man who was shown in a widely seen photo sitting in Pelosi's office with his boots on the desk. He also wrote a disparaging note to Pelosi. Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen called the photo of Barnett a “shocking image” and "repulsive.'

“Those who are proven to have committed criminal acts during the storming of the Capitol will face justice,'' Rosen said.

Also charged was a West Virginia state lawmaker who posted videos online showing himself pushing his way inside the Capitol, fist bumping with a police officer and then milling around the Rotunda as he shouted “Our house!” The lawmaker, Derrick Evans, was arrested by the FBI at his home on Friday and charged with entering restricted federal property.

Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the Capitol Police Officers’ Union, said he was “incredibly proud of the individual officers whose actions protected the lives of hundreds of members of Congress and their staff.”

Once the breach of the Capitol building was inevitable, officers prioritized lives over property, leading people to safety, he said. “Not one member of Congress or their staff was injured. Our officers did their jobs. Our leadership did not. Our law enforcement partners that assisted us were remarkable.”

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who leads a subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police budget, said Friday that rank-and-file officers "were put in a incredibly dangerous situation. And that’s really where my frustration comes in.''

Sund and other leaders are charged with protecting lawmakers, "but also making sure that the rank-and-file members are put in situations where they’re as safe as possible and they have the support that they need. And that clearly isn’t the case,” Ryan said.

Pelosi ordered flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff in Sicknick’s honor.


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro in Washington, Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Derek Karikari in New York contributed to this report.

KCDC to pursue new look

The Knox County Development Corp. is moving ahead with a plan to rebrand itself.

The KCDC’s board of directors, meeting via Zoom Friday morning, heard from Leslie Beard, the chair of its marketing committee, on its decision to hire TD Advertising, a firm in Columbus, to redesign the organization’s website and logo, among other marketing materials.

Beard told the full board that the committee looked at seven proposals and eventually narrowed them down to three.

They conducted virtual interviews, she said, on Dec. 18, and TD Advertising simply stood out.

“We feel they are the best choice in terms of what they can offer and their experience with other economic development organizations,” she said, later adding that TD Advertising had done work recently for the KCDC’s counterpart in Pike County.

“I feel like they will be a good company for us to work with,” she said.

KCDC CEO Chris Pfaff said more details will be forthcoming in terms of a possible redesign in the coming weeks.

The KCDC this summer announced the creation of a 12-member marketing committee, one that was divided further into sub-groups, whose focus would be to offer an overhaul to its digital and online presence, specifically its logo, overall brand, slogan and website.

The focus, he said, would be to streamline and modernize it all.

Also on the list for improvement are the KCDC’s social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Pfaff, too, wants to look at the production of a video, one that would highlight a few of the county’s most notable businesses.