Door County Libraries Keep It Creative

Library use soared as local librarians innovated to meet patrons’ needs during a COVID-19-challenged year

During a time when so many people and businesses were struggling to find themselves at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the eight libraries in Door County wasted no time moving into a new normal.

They shut down, of course, while the state’s Safer at Home emergency order was in effect, but innovations were soon in place. Virtual programming started with book clubs and story times, then transitioned into a summer reading program.

Door County Library Director Tina Kakuske said it was exciting to find new ways to connect not only with local library users, but also with those sheltering in their homes in Florida, Arizona and elsewhere. Participants have responded that the virtual connection brought them into a world of reading and enabled them to feel more connected to the community. 

Barb Husch at the Forestville Library with a fox craft project. Submitted.

Wi-Fi was already available 24/7 at all the branches, so anyone who needed the internet could access it while sitting outside or in their car. Starting in May 2020, staff members made contactless pickup service possible by answering hundreds of telephone calls to take orders, and organizations donated unused grocery bags to hold books and other requested materials.

By early July, Library Express went into effect, welcoming people back inside through social distancing, wearing masks and limited browsing time. And the number of library users surged as the demand increased for online services such as e-books, audiobooks, movies and virtual programs. 

“Our YouTube channel subscribers grew exponentially, and viewers are now averaging 500 hours of watch time monthly,” Kakuske said. “We also saw increases in our Facebook interactions and started offering videos on our Instagram channel and inside Facebook groups.”

Zoom facilitated new personal connections with authors who visited the book clubs, including J Ryan Stradal, Michael Perry and Pam Jenoff; and readers learned about new works in progress through discussions led by local authors Judy DuCharme, Joseph Tachovsky, Tony Walter and J.P. Jordan.

TED Talk-style lectures by local and regional experts taught viewers about glass mosaics, watercolor painting, gardening with spring herbs, mushroom hunting, how to travel the world for free and paddling the Boundary Waters.

Beth Lokken at the Sturgeon Bay Library with 130 craft bags – carrying seeds to plant for Earth Day – to be distributed to all eight branch sites. Submitted.

“The summer reading program had a whopping 62% increase in programming, with 215 events,” Kakuske said. “Topics ranged from crafts for toddlers to teens, to author talks and performances from national and regional favorites Randy Peterson and Jim Jayes Magic Show. Stories were read aloud by the Lavender Library Lady, Miss Mary Ann and Miss Beth. Therapy dogs rounded out the literacy and culture programs.”

Some pandemic-inspired programming features will continue even after the threat of COVID-19 passes. Chapter-a-Day and a virtual story time will give families that may not be able to leave the house the ability to watch at home in the morning or save the stories to share before bedtime. And virtual lectures, author talks and other events will be broadcast live and recorded for users to watch later.

Last fall, the libraries introduced monthly craft bags that could be picked up at their front doors. They included screen-free fun such as paper turtles, Halloween jack-o-lanterns and snowperson window clings. Adult craft programs extended to holiday gifts and sewing tutorials, showcasing the tools available in the Egg Harbor branch’s MakerSpace. The library system also purchased a subscription to CreativeBug, providing an app and website full of video tutorials that taught skills to pursue new creative outlets.

Kakuske noted that Door County Reads went national as well as virtual in 2021. The NEA Big Read: Door County reached a viewership of 4,465 with the theme The Importance of the Arts to Sustain Us – which was especially true when the ability to gather to enjoy the arts was drastically altered.

Door County libraries are making more connections by providing programs in partnership with the libraries in Algoma and Kewaunee for the Inga Witscher spring cooking demo, Badger Talks from UW-Madison and the Strong Libraries = Strong Communities campaign sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Association. They also collaborate with other nonprofits such as Crossroads at Big Creek, the League of Women Voters, the Master Gardeners of Door County and the Door County Seed Library.

Communications director Morgan Mann also contributed to this story. To learn more about Door County libraries, call 920.743.6578.

Borrowing Books Saves You Money

When you check out books from your local Door County library, the date-due slip will show how much you saved by borrowing rather than buying (not to mention the bookshelf space you saved). A recent checkout of four books, for example, clocked a savings of $83.18.