The Summer Reading Program is underway at the Duluth Public Library and will run from June 1 to Aug. 14.

But how does a library host a summer reading program without programming nor the ability to yet visit the library in person?

"That's the big challenge this year," said youth services coordinator Kristy Nerhaugen. "Normally we can tell people in person what's going on and do a big kick-off event and regular programs for all ages. But with COVID-19, we've had to shift a lot of our programs online."

Fortunately, the library had already shifted the reading log portion of the reading program online a few years ago. The library uses a platform called "Beanstack" where participants can log their hours or books read over the summer. The website is accessible via web browser, and a mobile application can be downloaded to phones and tablets.

"That's already familiar to our patrons, as they've been able to use that for a couple of years now," Nerhaugen said. "But if you don't have Internet access, you can use the print reading logs that we've been providing with our curbside pickup orders."

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Kids participating in the program are encouraged to read or be read to for 20 hours over the summer. But children also receive badges in the online program for spending time playing and crafting.

Speaking of crafts, if a household is a little short on supplies, the library has also been occasionally distributing craft kits for kids with the curbside book orders.

"We know a lot of people are getting that digital burnout, so we're trying to have these hands-on crafts available to give kids something fun to do," Nerhaugen said. "They're not always available, but we post about them on our Facebook page when they're ready to be picked up."

The library distributed clothespin butterfly craft kits in May and has plans to do a Play-Doh craft kit in the near future.

Fans of the library's summer Kaleidoscope program, which has provided family entertainment for more than 35 years with help from the Port of Duluth Kiwanis Club, should know the programs will continue this summer, albeit digitally. The monthly programs will be shared live through the Duluth Public Library's Facebook page.

"It’s wonderful that we live in an age where we have these digital platforms to continue to reach out and connect with our patrons who we've missed so much," Nerhaugen said. "The great thing about a lot of the Facebook stuff is that you don’t need to have an account to access them."

Library supervisor Sue Schumacher carries a bag full of books to a waiting customer outside the Duluth Public Library on Friday, May 15. The library has been fulfilling an average of 60 curbside orders each day. When they started the program April 27, they averaged 90 curbside orders per day. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Library supervisor Sue Schumacher carries a bag full of books to a waiting customer outside the Duluth Public Library on Friday, May 15. The library has been fulfilling an average of 60 curbside orders each day. When they started the program April 27, they averaged 90 curbside orders per day. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

When will the library open again?

That's the one question librarians keep being asked. According to public relations manager Laura Selden, the answer is currently unknown.

"The biggest reason is the fact that we lost 25 library technicians over the pandemic," Selden said. "We have a big building with a lot of service points, and without the staff, it's really hard to run things."

Selden said the library is waiting on news about the Duluth city budget to see if the temporary layoffs of technicians will be permanent.

"In the meantime, we're working hard on the curbside portion of things," Selden said. "And that's going to change a little bit pretty soon."

Up until June 15, patrons had to make an appointment to stop by the library to pick up their curbside book orders. But starting Monday, patrons will be able to pull up to pick up books without an appointment.

"We’re switching to a software that will let us communicate when someone pulls up, to let us know that they’re there. So we can grab their books then and get them checked out," Selden said.

The curbside service is also moving from Michigan Street to Superior Street. When picking up an order, bring your library card and cellphone, if possible. Selden said further instructions will be available on the library's website, duluthlibrary.org, and at the designated pickup locations.