Summer reading at the Gering Public Library wraps up Aug. 1, marking the most unusual summer in the library’s history.

COVID-19 forced the library to get creative with its program offerings, and like many other organizations, found a way to persevere through technology. The library offered a virtual summer reading program through an app called ReaderZone, which was made possible through the Nebraska Library Commission and the Western Library System of Nebraska. Those who downloaded it could track their reading progress and be entered to win prizes for completing different milestones. Winners will be announced the week of Aug. 2.

“It was definitely a learning curve,”  Christie Clarke, youth services librarian at the library, said.

“Whatever happened, we have to roll with the punches, and we still have to, you know, provide for our patrons just the way schools have to provide for their students. We have to figure it out.”

Even with the virtual offerings, participation in this year’s summer reading program was down across all ages. Clarke said that was to be expected. They tried to be innovative with different projects to do at home or outside that would keep the community involved, including YouTube videos, crafts and scavenger hunts.

Sherry Preston, public services librarian and director of the adult summer reading program, set up a wildflower walk which garnered participation from patrons and even an antelope.

Now with school around the corner, the Gering Public Library is working with local schools to figure out how they can continue their partnerships safely. Clarke said they are following guidelines set by schools and state government to help make decisions about what programs will be offered in the fall.

One program Clarke really hopes to make work this fall is the SMILE program, in which second graders receive their first library card. It usually takes place in the spring, but last year’s second graders missed out due to the pandemic.

“We weren’t able to do that last year for the first time in over 25 years,” said Clarke. “I would like to address that in the fall this year and get those second graders that are now beginning third graders and try to get that done with them, and then go ahead and have a regular one in the spring for the current second graders.”

Other programs Clarke would like to see come back are Preschool Storytime, LEAP and other after school partnerships. As of right now, Clarke is optimistic that they will be able to start these programs back up.

Until then, Clarke has been working on other programs that can be done from home. A personal favorite is the story-time backpacks. She put together six themed backpacks with books, activities, toys and more goodies that can be checked out at the library for some home-learning fun. They are geared toward ages three to six but can be fun for the whole family.

“I’ve had families doing them together with the older kids involved,” said Clarke. “The people who do know about them, I can’t keep them (the backpacks) in.”

The backpack themes include pets, fun with food, dinosaurs, prince/princess, under the sea and superheroes. Clarke hopes to put together even more.

The Gering Public Library is now open to the public, but they are limiting the number of people in the building at one time. Clarke said she is grateful for the strong support of community members and businesses who have been working to make the library programs possible during these pandemic times.

“Our director really is mindful of being able to provide access to information for our community,” said Clarke. “Our main goal is to provide our services if at all possible.”

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