Lessons Learned Help Westfield Memorial Library to Grow

For The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — Many places shut down when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. The Westfield Memorial Library was no different. It shut its doors, hoping to reopen in a few weeks, but then found itself facing similar hardships and had to find new ways to serve the community, Interim Director Jennifer Schulze told The Westfield Leader and The Times.

At first, the staff came in to do some “housekeeping,” she said, before starting curbside service in June. There was a bit of a learning curve to curbside pickup, but the staff was proud to “greet and serve the people that way,” said Ms. Schulze.

The library expanded its community outreach with an updated website and a strong push on social media by posting children’s story-time read-alouds, Zoom presentations and book lists for patrons. Additionally, the library shared crafting videos on its Facebook page and made the supplies available for curbside pickup, so community members could follow along with the video. The “TGIF” video series became popular, too.

Connecting readers with new books via librarian suggestions was challenging as well, so the library created the “Book Match” program (called “Book Genie” in the children’s department). Patrons would fill out an interest form on the library’s website, and library workers would choose books based on the responses. In addition to this, the Books on Wheels delivery service continued.

The Westfield Memorial Library was able to reopen for browsing in early fall before facing another shutdown in November as Covid transmission rates increased, and then again in February for heating issues, during which time the library went back to curbside service.

Ms. Schulze believes that some community members may choose to continue curbside service in the future and said the library is ready to meet those needs.

The future of the library is definitely changing, after the retirement of longtime director Phil Israel. “He leaves a legacy that meets the needs but also set a standard for libraries of the future,” said Ms. Schulze. She credited Mr. Israel for recognizing technology as “unshakeable in people’s lives,” and expanding the library’s collection of e-materials. Mr. Israel also was an integral part of the 2007 remodel which introduced more computers, charging stations for phones, and murals on the walls, Ms. Schulze remarked. Mr. Israel knew that libraries had to “evolve for an evolving society,” she said.

Ms. Schulze hopes that the upcoming strategic plan will help the library and community make those necessary advancements. According to the library’s website, wmlnj.org, the collections will be thinned to create flexible space for new programs; new print and digital content will be added, and parking-related issues will be addressed. The full strategic plan will be unveiled in the next few weeks, but an overview can be found on the website under the “About Us” tab.

Community members looking to connect with the library can do so on Facebook, Instagram, Wowbrary, or through the “Connect” tab on the library’s website. Westfield residents also can “book” on over to the library, located at 550 East Broad Street, for some socially-distant browsing.

“We have changed for good,” said Ms. Schulze, “and we have changed for the long haul.” She continued by noting the most important part is that people feel “safe, welcomed, and happy.”

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