Not a lot has changed since the Whiting Public Library was constructed in 1906. The red-bricked building located on Oliver Street in Whiting went through a few renovations back in 1982, when an addition was added on, and then again in 2000 as the library grew to incorporate technological needs for a growing city. Since then, the library has continued its commitment to provide education and empowerment through literature, children’s programs, and services to Whiting residents.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the world, forcing businesses and organizations to rethink and strategize how they provide their services to those who need them. The Whiting Public Library was no exception. While it stayed true to its mission, the library, at the helm of Director Montserrat Inglada and a staff of 12 librarians, began to tackle these challenges—some old, some new—in innovative ways, proving how essential the library was in more ways than one.
“We really try to see how we can best serve the community,” said Inglada.
At its core, the library is a hub for storytelling in every form. Library members have access to books and literature; digital media like movies, music, and audiobooks; and genealogy resources like HeritageQuest, which provides comprehensive American genealogy and histories, guides to local Whiting history, and even yearbooks.
Even before COVID-19, the library began investing in technology and how it could provide its high-quality services through multiple mediums. It’s a welcomed evolution that offers accessibility to knowledge and empowerment.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s been interesting to see how programming and things have changed,” Inglada said. “Everything has been more virtual, and especially with the pandemic, it’s shown us that being online and virtual is so important for our programming. It will probably stay this way even after the pandemic.”
The library has always placed an emphasis on its programming to encourage literacy and community. From Its Storytime with Ms. Laurie to Art Club Online, programming for kids has been a big hit over the years, thanks to the librarians being as active as they can be.
“One of our librarians has actually been learning how to code,” Inglada said proudly. “She has worked so hard to do things that can be fun for kids, but also educational. She’s also been doing these amazing storytimes. Stories are so important for kids; it’s something that helps kids develop speech and language skills, along with providing time for the family to enjoy it, too.”
Because of these programs’ importance in engaging kids with stories and new knowledge, the staff jumped into action to reconfigure how these programs would look in a COVID-19 world. The first move was to go completely virtual, something that has been vital to the community, according to Inglada.
“We’ve always had great programming that’s educational and entertaining, which has been a big help to people and families in the area who are isolated because of the pandemic,” she said. “Our Youth Service Librarian has worked very hard to get a lot of grants this past year. Over the summer, we had these grab-and-go boxes with educational kits that we delivered to homes, which we did about once a week.”
“We also have a lot of free resources people are able to use with their library card, like Hoopla and OverDrive, which gives access to magazines, books, streaming services, and more,” Inglada said.
For families, elderly people, and those unable to venture out due to restrictions or a focus on their safety, home delivery and curbside pickup was available starting in May.
When the library reopened under COVID-19 restrictions, it continued the process of addressing Whiting adults’ more complex needs.
“Our community is a little isolated, and since we don’t have public transportation, that makes it even more so,” Inglada said. “We just want to do everything we can to help right now.”
“Throughout the pandemic, faxing and copying have been completely free, since we knew a lot of people were out of work, to use if they need to send out paperwork for SNAP benefits or unemployment," she continued. "We also began a program to help people apply for unemployment, something we realized a lot of people weren’t able to do because they didn’t have a computer at home or didn’t know how to. We even have hotspots for people to use for free if they need to come in to use Wi-Fi.”
As the 2021 tax season nears, people can make an appointment at the Whiting Public Library to receive free tax help through a program called Avida, a service the library provides every year but realizes is even more important now.
“Now with COVID-19, people are looking for help with their taxes since they may not feel comfortable going places or they’re having money issues,” she said. “They can make an appointment and they can come here where we have a wonderful group of experts to help them, and their taxes are filed electronically.”
Despite the challenges, the staff has worked hard to have fun, even doing their own versions of popular quarantine activities.
“We’ve tried hard with our virtual programming,” Inglada said. “Our Adult Programming Director was doing '12 Days of Cookies' featuring recipes staff and patrons gave to him. We’ve also been featuring our cookbook collections and with winter here, we will be doing a series showcasing soups and recipes patrons can enjoy.”
“We just want to do things that families can do together and enjoy,” she said. “We’ve just been more than happy to do whatever we can.”
For more information about the Whiting Public Library, please visit its website at https://whiting.lib.in.us/learn-and-research/.