Johnson County libraries shift to virtual reading program during COVID-19

Lenexa City Center Library

With the pandemic keeping all in-person activities and programming off the books at least through the end of 2020 at the Johnson County Public Library, the librarians who plan the

With the pandemic keeping all in-person activities and programming off the books at least through the end of 2020 at the Johnson County Public Library, the librarians who plan the annual summer reading program had to get a little creative.

Melanie Fuemmeler, elementary coordinating librarian, said much of the regular library programming has been successful in a virtual-only format so making the switch to a virtual reading program was a no brainer.

“I think we’re reaching a different set of patrons,” Fuemmeler said.

With completely virtual programming, kids can access the activities and other aspects of the program without needing transportation to the library. Additionally, not every neighborhood in the county has easy access to a branch  — that barrier is gone, Fuemmeler said.

“I think it’s more about reaching a different demographic and seeing how this approach is reaching areas of Johnson County that we haven’t traditionally had as strong of a connection with,” Fuemmeler said.

Free Book Distribution

To keep up the goal of getting books into childrens’ hands, the library partnered with local businesses and organizations that serve children and families in the community already. Melanie Fuemmeler, elementary coordinating librarian, said there are about 20 community partners distributing books for the library this summer, ranging from private schools to a local bakery.

One of the key parts of the summer reading program, Fuemmeler said, has been the distribution of free books to kids who participate at the library branches at the end of the summer.

This aspect is meant to help local kids build their at-home library with materials in their target age-range, but the Johnson County Public Library’s desire to limit gatherings in branches made it nearly impossible to carry that out as normal. Also, when planning for the program started, it wasn’t clear if the branches would even be open in time for summer.

“That’s one big shift for us in terms of getting books out into the community,” Fuemmeler said. “It’s something we still wanted to uphold, but knowing that people weren’t going to be able to come into the branches to get those, we had to get creative with how we were going to get them out into the community.”

To keep up the goal of getting books into children’s hands, the library partnered with local businesses and organizations that serve children and families in the community already. Fuemmeler said there are about 20 community partners distributing books for the library this summer, ranging from private schools to a local bakery.

Additionally, the library added multiple ebooks for each age group that can be downloaded.

Looking Forward

If the program is as successful online as the library staff expects it to be, Fuemmeler said they might look to do some kind of hybrid summer reading campaign in the future that uses both online and face-to-face elements.

“If you ask certain people they might feel like it’s been compromised, you know, depending on how much they came into the library branch and did some reading,” Fuemmeler said. “But for those who maybe couldn’t they might say ‘Oh, this is so much better because I can log in from home.’”

For a calendar of current summer reading program activities and access to materials, visit the library website. Though branches have reopened, the library will be operating under limited hours for the foreseeable future and has a number of social distancing recommendations for patrons.