By Hannah White
Bookstores and libraries are places often associated with solitude. And while it’s true that not much is better than curling up in a corner of your favorite book spot with no one but a cup of coffee and a good read, libraries and bookstores are also places that foster community among locals by supporting and serving artists, students, and immigrants, among other roles. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way bookstores and libraries operate, many of these places have adapted so that they can continue serving their communities and fostering togetherness in times where these things are needed more than ever.
It’s not just about books
For some time, small indie bookstores were on the decline because of competition from online retailers and big chains, but prior to the onset of the pandemic there was a resurgence of sorts in these book spots. Many book lovers choose to support local independent booksellers and understandably so. Indie bookstores often showcase local artistic and musical talents, and are where literature lovers can come together in a shared space of creativity and camaraderie.
And while libraries are considered by some to be outdated places of the past, they are actually extremely vital assets to communities, especially low-income communities where free tutoring, technology assistance, and other education programs allow students that could not otherwise afford these normally expensive services to get the learning experience that everyone deserves. Through programs like these, libraries also teach students how to be engaged in their communities, share, and participate in the arts, showcasing just how important libraries are when it comes to child development. For children and adults without computers, libraries are vital spaces where these people can connect and learn through free access to technology. Libraries are safe spaces where people of all backgrounds can come together to learn and grow as community members and human beings.
Unfortunately many libraries and bookstores were forced to close at the onset of the pandemic, but many have adapted to include social distancing protocols or have turned to offering virtual services. My hometown library now offers a large selection of e-books for free with a library card and they even do book pickups where you can order a book online and retrieve it at a contactless pickup zone outside of the library. New York Public Library now also provides remote access to databases that are typically restricted to onsite use and has eased restrictions on digital content. Many libraries, such as Boston Public Library, are also offering virtual customer service appointments, allowing staff members to work from home safely. Other bookstores and libraries are also offering zoom or Facebook live events for art showcases or educational programs for children.
Surge in children’s lit e-reading
While libraries and bookstores have adapted to continue offering services to their customers, many people have turned to purchasing e-books or ordering books from sellers like Amazon instead. Children’s e-books in particular have had a huge surge in popularity with kids home from school and in need of entertainment. Young adult nonfiction e-book checkouts are up 122%, and juvenile fiction is up 93%. Virtual storytime sessions have become popularized, with children’s book authors, library staff, and celebrities posting these to their social media accounts or holding live sessions for families to tune into from home.
Regardless of what medium they come in, this pandemic has proven that books will always be essential. And while we wait for our favorite book spots to open back up, we can still stay connected to our communities and enjoy the virtual services they offer from the comfort of home. For centuries books have served as not only means of entertainment, but also beacons of hope, especially in difficult and lonely times.