As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change lives in both mundane and profound ways, libraries offer a bit of normalcy online and in person.

The two library systems in St. Joseph, the St. Joseph Public Library and Rolling Hills Library, suspended in-person visits at the beginning of the pandemic and reopened to the public in early summer.

Despite uncertainties, patrons were never without the option of borrowing books as all public libraries offer pick-up services for patrons.

“When we closed down to the public we right away started with curbside service and that has gone over great with our patrons,” Rolling Hills Public Relations Specialist Alan Stolfus said. “It’s just like going to any restaurant with the drive-up window.”

In addition to books, technology has become a big part of library services, Mary Beth Revels, director of the St. Joseph Public Library, said. One change allows people to access the library’s Wi-Fi at all times. Instead of limiting Wi-Fi access to when the library was open, public access is now available 24/7.

“Over the last 15 years, libraries have been very instrumental in helping people access technology, either be it for a job, connecting with family, applying for benefits or just being connected with the online world,” Revels said.

While all St. Joseph Public Library branches have reverted back to contactless service as of Sept. 2, patrons who need access to a computer can schedule a session by calling the Downtown branch at 816-232-7729.

One aspect both Revels and Stolfus are missing is the community function libraries fulfill.

“We have always welcomed people to come into the library, hang out, meet in our buildings,” Revels said. “It’s a place for people to gather. And, unfortunately, during a health crisis, we’re not a place for people to gather.”

While Rolling Hills Library branches are currently open to patrons, visits are encouraged to be limited to 30 minutes.

“Libraries through the years have transitioned to kind of a community living room,” Stolfus said. “So now to stop and tell them, ‘Come and get your stuff and go home,’ kind of defeats what we’ve always done.”

In order to encourage community involvement and reading, both library systems are offering online programs, videos and content people can enjoy from home.

“We’re doing storytimes on YouTube and on Facebook, we’re doing book clubs through Zoom. We’ve got four different book clubs happening at the library still, we’ve just moved up online,” Revels said.

Anyone who doesn’t have a library card for either library system yet can apply for e-cards. E-cards let patrons use all online services, like e-books, audiobooks, movies and databases.

“That e-card has gone over very well with a lot of people who didn’t want to get out, couldn’t get out, but want all the free material that we have,” Stolfus said.

To learn more, visit Rolling Hills Library online at rhcl.org/ and the St. Joseph Public Library at sjpl.ent.sirsi.net/.

Jessica Kopp can be reached at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp