September 25, 2022

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WATCH NOW: Book vending machines, revamped `Zoom’ rooms among library’s initiatives for post-pandemic resilience | Local News

9 min read

Kenosha Public Library and the county library system have been awarded more than $226,000 in the latest round of federal funding that aims to help communities develop resilience as they continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the local library and county library systems’ initiatives were among 33 projects for which the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction awarded the funds to help them meet their needs.

More than $3 million in library relief funding was announced to be awarded statewide as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and will be distributed to 10 public libraries and 15 library systems.

Book vending machines

The funding, $101,300, will allow Kenosha Public Library to a purchase two large book vending machines, one to be stationed at the Kenosha YMCA at 7101 53rd St. and the other at the Boys and Girls Club of Kenosha, 1330 52nd St, according to Barbara Brattin, the library’s director. The grant also pays for the library to rent the book collection, with age-appropriate children’s titles.

People are also reading…

The vending machines are expected to arrive at the two community locations this summer.

She said one of the “most startling effects” of the pandemic has been on children’s reading levels.

“Our third graders are reading at a 27 percent proficiency,” she said. “So, this is really a serious situation. And we all know that the more books they have access to the better. So, how do we remain resilient even if this happens again or if there is any reason why the kids can’t come to the library or go to school?”

The Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, she said, are two locations that “see a lot of kids.” The vending machines are yet another way children can access books, for instance, over the summer.

“And this is kind of a lure in to use books, obviously kids like to use machines and this is just like the snack machine you see at airports or rest stops,” she said.

The vending machine is the same as any snack vending system, only this one is feeding kids reading material. No cash or credit is required, just a library card, said Brattin.

“You scan your library, you (select) `A-1’ and it drops down for you,” she said.

“These will be filled with children’s books and hopefully the kids at the Y and the Boys and Girls Club will use them,” she said. “We’re excited about that.”

The vending machines will have book return stations next to them, as well.

‘Zoom rooms’

A Kenosha County Library System grant titled “Designing Resilient Libraries for a Post-COVID World” was funded $125,686 for library space and safety improvement. The grant, which is administered by the Kenosha Public Library, also benefits libraries in Salem and Twin Lakes, which are part of the county system.

In the city, three study rooms at the Southwest branch, three at the Northside branch and one at the Simmons Library will be converted to “Zoom” rooms, according to Rob Nuñez, division head of support services for the library.

Locally, Kenosha public library’s portion, or $15,468.18, is being used to fund renovations at the three city locations, he said. Zoom refers to the popular videoconferencing app used worldwide by amid the pandemic.

For example, at the Southwest Library, 7979 38th Ave., room upgrades will include a new air purification system, sound-dampening tiles and frosted windows to allow for additional activities that require privacy, such as Telehealth services for those accessing virtual healthcare visits or for nursing mothers.

“You can have more confidential conversations with your doctor, mental health, physical health … or if you want to conduct an interview,” he said.

The rooms are expected to be ready for use by the end of the month or early June. The rooms will also continue to be used for studying or just spaces where people can still get work done. As before, they will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Another upgrade includes filtered water dispensing systems to fill bottles (library users supply their own). One has already been installed at the Southwest Library and is in use. The systems will soon be available at all libraries.

Brattin said the pandemic has changed the way people work and live.

“This idea of community resilience … how are people changing the way they use the library after the pandemic? A lot of people were working from home,” she said. “Well, what if they don’t want to work from home? They want to work somewhere, but they don’t have an office to go to anymore, so, those upgrades those rooms will be helpful in that direction.”

‘Whole person librarianship’

The Kenosha Public Library is also part of an 11-member library consortium led by the Racine Public Library, which has been awarded federal funds totaling $143,783 for a project that supports community members in crisis through the concepts of “whole person librarianship,” according to Brattin.

Kenosha will receive about $10,000 to be used toward training staff to identify community members in need of social services and assisting them through referrals to the appropriate people and agencies to handle their needs, she said.

“We’re talking about how we can best work with people who are in really serious need. Sometimes they might even have some mental health challenges. So we’re doing a lot of training with our staff about how to best intervene,” she said. “Unfortunately, too many times when we see some of these people it winds up with a call to the police and that doesn’t help them in the end. The police have other things to do and we feel bad about it.”

Brattin said she and her staff have been working on how to help. While Racine currently has a full-time social worker who works directly with library staff and will be adding another half-time position, Kenosha will focus on staff training.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can have a more successful interaction with people in great need and learn who are the people in the community so that we cannot just hand a phone number to them, but we can actually refer them to a person,” Brattin said.

State Librarian and Assistant State Superintendent Tessa Michaelson Schmidt said the public libraries have “always been the heart of our communities.”

“During the pandemic, libraries became critical in providing internet access, workforce assistance, literacy programs, and more,” she said. “These grants will help libraries provide hybrid services to library users, upgrade technology, improve library spaces, and promote community resiliency.


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