The Pelham Public Library’s devotion to the community

By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

PELHAM – The Pelham Public Library has always served as a reliable resource in the Pelham community. Children and adults alike are offered a variety of different resources for entertainment and education. Some are there for books, some are there for community events, but no matter the reason, the library has always stayed a beacon of comfort to Pelham residents.

During the pandemic, when so many other businesses stopped offering services, the library decided to adapt, focusing on pushing their virtual and online resources. During the shutdown last year, the library began providing digital library cards and even adopted curbside services to get people their books and other library needs.

“We have seen a huge increase in our circulation of eBooks through the Libby and Hoopla platforms,” said Mary Campbell, the library’s director. “We also offer access to Homework Alabama, which is an online tutoring service that is free for all Alabama residents.”

Campbell said they even found ways to adapt their options for teenagers to keep them engaged and entertained during such uncertain times.

“Our teen department has embraced programming through Zoom and Discord for a virtual D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) group and online gaming through the Nintendo Switch platform. Our Summer Reading program in 2020 was 100 percent virtual, and this year we offered a blended version with virtual programs as well as outdoor in-person programs,” she said.

With more diverse platforms at the public’s disposal, Campbell said membership rates have grown substantially. “That growth rate was through the roof when we first moved into our new building,” she said. “Everyone was very excited about having a brand new library!”

While growth has slowed in the past few months, Campbell said their 2021 numbers are much higher than their 2020 numbers.

Love in the Community

According to Campbell, the library “strives to be part of the Pelham community.” The library has always partnered with countless local organizations over the years to provide Pelham residents with as many resources as possible.

“In the last year we participated in Scarecrows in the Park, Paws in the Park, the Community Health Fair, and hosted the Kids area (Kidzapalooza) at Pelham Palooza,” she said.

They recently completed their third year partnering with the organization Girls Inc. to host their annual Pelham Summer Camp. “Fifteen middle school girls spent a week at the library and rec center learning how to be healthy, happy and empowered,” Campbell said.

Adults in the area are also provided with a number of different events and resources. Upcoming events include an afternoon with Professor Ronald H. Fritze as he discusses the history of Hernando de Soto’s exploration of Eastern North America, including most of what is now Alabama. The event will be held Sept. 11 at 2 p.m.

The library also partners with the Pelham Senior Center periodically to offer technology classes to seniors, and on Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. they will be offering a presentation simplifying the complex issues of Medicare.

They also currently host the Alabaster Pelham Rotary Club’s weekly meeting, as well as the meetings of many other community and civic groups. One event the library is particularly proud of is the annual summer school supply drive, which benefits the Shelby County Foster Parents Association to ensure that children in foster care within Shelby County start the school year with all the school supplies they could possibly need.

Maintaining beloved events and keeping morale high was never a question with the library staff, said Campbell. Even through the uncertainty, it was a priority to help families feel as normal as possible.

“One of our most beloved programs in the library is Storytime,” said Campbell.  “Throughout the pandemic, we have been providing Storytime videos (checkout the library’s YouTube page). This summer we also had several outdoor Storytimes in Pelham City Park as a safe way for our little ones to engage in books and stories.”

For those who miss the in-person comradery, Campbell said she has some exciting news.

“We are happy to announce that in September we will be going back to our regular in-person Storytime schedule of Wednesday mornings at 9:15 and 10:30 and Thursday nights at 6:30,” she said. “We ask that everyone bear with us as we work to do this in as safe a manner as possible. With that in mind, we have had to tweak our format by providing a take home craft and snack and requiring that all those that can mask do.”

It’s that continuous dedication to the community that has made the library so prevalent to members of all ages.

“Lastly, we do require masks in our facility (they are required in all city facilities). We ask that people wear a mask while walking around and anytime they cannot socially distance. Masks can be removed while seated so long as social distance can be maintained. We also still offer curbside pickup of materials for anyone who cannot come in or who are not comfortable coming in.”

Let’s Talk Literacy

In a world where video games and video streaming has reigned supreme, Campbell said the conversation surrounding literacy can never be too loud.

“We can never talk too much about literacy. While reading ability in Pelham rates highly compared to the state as a whole, we know that kids who are not reading at grade level by third grade are more likely to struggle throughout their school career,” she said.

“The disruptions of the pandemic have hit our school children especially hard,” she continued. “We all need to do what we can to help the kids in our community recover any learning lost over the last 18 months.”

Campbell said there also needs to be a focus on “computer literacy.” “The pandemic showed us just how important access to broadband and computers are as well as the stark divide between those who have access and those that do not,” she said. “The library strives to stand in that gap by providing free WiFi, computer access, HotSpots, and tech help. Additionally, we have recently applied for a grant through the Emergency Access Fund to provide Chrome Books for checkout to our patrons.”

No matter what the future holds, Campbell said the Pelham Public Library will continue to provide the Pelham community with a place of comfort and support. “September is National Library Card Sign-Up month,” she said. “And we encourage everyone who doesn’t already have a card to come get one!”

For more information regarding the library’s upcoming events, visit their website: https://pelhamlibraryal.gov/576/Library