When the leadership of Lake Agassiz Regional Library (LARL) made the decision to close all of its facilities — including Detroit Lakes Public Library — until further notice on Tuesday, March 17, the staff of those facilities were faced with the possibility of long-term changes to how they do their jobs.

Life under the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic means that libraries across Minnesota have been forced to shift their focus from bringing people into their buildings to access their services, to making as many of those services as possible available online.

"We've revamped our website to highlight our online resources, " said Greta Guck, director of the Detroit Lakes Public Library, in a telephone interview.

The LARL staff is also in the process of expanding those online services to include virtual storytime for their youngest patrons; online meetings for their book clubs, writing groups and other adult gatherings; and increased access to online research tools and databases that have previously only been available within the library's walls, such as Ancestry.com — not to mention growing their digital library.

"We’ve already started shifting some of our collection development funds into Overdrive (LARL's primary repository for electronic books and audiobooks) and spending more money on electronic resources," said Guck, adding that LARL currently has more than 20,000 titles in its Overdrive collection.

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Detroit Lakes Public Library Director Greta Guck. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)
Detroit Lakes Public Library Director Greta Guck. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

While the library's Instant Digital Card service has been available for several months, providing instant access to LARL's catalog of e-books and e-audiobooks, the full gamut of the library's online resources has previously only been accessible by going into the local LARL public library or LINK site and applying for a physical library card. But this too, is changing, albeit temporarily.

"People can now sign up and receive a library card number right from our website!" said Guck, noting that this service went online at larl.org on Thursday, March 26.

"It will be somewhat temporary," she added, "because after we physically open again we will start to have people come in and show their ID and proof of address to get one, like they would have before."

In addition, critical information on things such as the 2020 U.S. Census, federal and state income taxes, and unemployment benefits, is either already available, or soon will be, via the website.

"We do have a direct link on our website to census information, underneath Services-Census 2020," Guck said. "For all other questions and needs of assistance, people can email detroit@larl.org or use the Contact Us button on our website, and a librarian will work to find the information they need.

"We are working on setting up help numbers that will be answered by our staff working remotely — we hope to have those contact numbers posted on our website by next week. Once our help numbers are up and running, people will be able to call in and speak with a librarian who can assist them with any information seeking needs they may have."

No fines for overdue books

Do you have a library book or video at home that you checked out before the library closure? Hang on to it, at least for now.

"We've extended all our due dates until at least May 1," said Guck, adding that while the book drop at the library will remain open, it's not necessary to bring in any checked out materials until LARL reopens its facilities to the public once again.

And even though the building is closed to the public, its free wireless Internet service will remain accessible in the area around the building at 1000 Washington Ave., including the parking lot, from 6 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily.

More information on new online offerings such as streaming programs, group chats and other resources being offered during the closure will be posted at larl.org/closure as well as the library's Facebook page.

Staff now working from home

It's not only the public that is staying away from the library during the closure; Guck said most of her staff has already made the shift to working from home, while she herself is still dividing her work days between home and the library, at least for now.

"I'll probably be working more and more from home," she said. As for collaboration between the libraries and LINK sites in the lakes area, Guck said, they already do most of their meetings remotely, so that won't change much.

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