When she took over as director in December 2020, Nancy Trimm faced a dire reality for Littleton's Bemis Library: It's staff was cut by 30%, a result of several pandemic-fueled early retirements and …
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•Monday through Thursday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
•Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
•Sunday: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
When she took over as director in December 2020, Nancy Trimm faced a dire reality for Littleton's Bemis Library: Its staff was cut by 30%, a result of several pandemic-fueled early retirements and one layoff. And the virus was once again surging, with the library only able to offer curbside pickup and some online appointments.
“It was certainly challenging,” said Trimm, who added that Bemis was among the hardest hit of the city's services.
Now, as it nears two years since COVID first forced it to shut its doors, Bemis Library is preparing to turn the page on its pandemic story with a full restoration of its usual hours and a bolstering of its staff and programs.
“It feels fantastic,” Trimm said. “It's such a relief to be able to return to the level of service that we believe our community deserves and it's really exciting to be able to both hire some new staff and also put staff who are working in temporary positions into regular status.”
Beginning March 6, the library will be reopened Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m., extend its closing hour to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, maintain its hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and open its doors an hour earlier, at 9 a.m., on Saturdays.
With an influx of tax revenue last year spurred by the city's rebounding economy, city council signaled its support during a Jan. 25 meeting to approve $456,718 from its general fund to restore staff and services to pre-pandemic levels.
Before COVID, the library had a staff of 40. Now it's down to 28. As more part-time and full-time employees return, Trimm said there could be opportunity to even add new programs, such as a book delivery bus for residents with physical mobility or transportation barriers.
The restoration comes as Bemis, like much of the city, faced a roller coaster of uncertainty amid the pandemic.
After fully shutting down in March 2020, the library began offering curbside pickup in May of that year, before opening indoors in July for just 25 hours per week and with limited staff. Since then, it has steadily increased its hours to around 55, though it was forced to close indoors and return to curbside for December 2020 and January 2021 during the third COVID wave.
“The hardest thing was just constantly having to adjust our service levels based on what was happening with the pandemic,” Trimm said.
Though in-person library visits were lower in 2021 than in pre-pandemic years, it still saw a 40% increase from 2020. And its circulation numbers were the highest in four years at 649,587, thanks in part to a major effort from staff to increase the library's online reading database.
Digital readings now make up about 44% of all check-outs, up from the roughly 18% the library was seeing before COVID, according to Trimm.
This, along with an increase in online programs and services, has led to what feels like a new era for the library for Haley Caldwell, who runs Bemis' adult services.
“It's changed a lot, the face of the library,” she said. “Our online services are really going to be important more now than they were before COVID … I think we're heading in a really good direction.”
Still, a return to normalcy is appreciated among the library's patrons, Caldwell said.
“Libraries are one of the last places in society where you can go without the expectation of spending money to stay,” she said. “There's no place you can go to simply exist and people really missed that during COVID.”
Caldwell said the library's study rooms have been full from open to close, a testament to how important the space can be for the community.
“People are doing everything from working remotely to getting a college degree,” Caldwell said.
Human connection has been a major draw to the library for other patrons, especially seniors, said Claire Mattoon, programming and outreach librarian for Bemis, who helps run several adult and senior service programs.
The library's weekly senior meet-ups provide an opportunity for a demographic that, even before COVID, faced more social isolation, Mattoon said.
“It really was the one opportunity that they had to engage outside of their own walls,” said Mattoon, who added that when the pandemic hit the meet-ups were able to pivot to Zoom meetings and conference calls. “That one was particularly important for us to maintain in some way.”
Socializing and work time at the library have been especially hard without its Sunday hours, said Trimm, who added that before COVID, Sundays were one of the most popular times for people to come to the library.
This included people who worked too much on the weekdays, who lived outside Littleton and schoolchildren looking for a place to do homework for the upcoming week.
Now with Sunday hours set to be restored, as well as an extension of weekday and Saturday hours, the library will also again be able to host programs such as evening book clubs for children.
“The library really functions as a place of community connection where people feel safe and comfortable to gather,” Trimm said. “We are a very welcoming and helpful staff and the Littleton community knows that when they come from the library there's a place for them.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the library hours for Friday. It is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The story has been updated.
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