West Hartford Library: Data Shows It’s More than Just Books

West Hartford Library, Noah Webster Branch. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The West Hartford Public Library launches the ‘Get Your Card, It’s Free!’ campaign, and data has shown that during the pandemic, usage greatly increased.

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West Hartford Public Library is launching the “Get Your Card, It’s Free!” campaign in February to encourage town residents to sign up for a library card and take advantage of a growing collection of digital resources and virtual programming.

Through a series of videos, the “Get Your Card, It’s Free!” campaign highlights the wide variety of free library resources cardholders have access to, which includes books and physical materials but also a diverse array of programming, access to academic journals and databases, digital streaming platforms, newspapers and magazines – and even friendships.

“The library provides an opportunity for lifelong learning and entertainment, it’s a place where people become friends by participating in reading groups,” West Hartford Library Foundation Board Chair Jill Spear says in one video.

While some of the interviews were filmed before the pandemic, they still ring true as the library has continued to offer an array of virtual programming for adults, teen and children. Most of our writing groups and discussion groups continue to meet regularly in a “virtual meeting room.”

“The library offers a lot of programming, too and that’s been really wonderful. I keep my eyes peeled for the newsletter as they talk about their events and activities,” library patron Natalia Menjivar says in another video. “We’ve seen ballet performances and concerts. The library really offers so much variety and that’s one of the things that makes it so wonderful.

The library has also continued to offer resources to West Hartford’s immigrant community, including in-person and virtual English classes, virtual citizenship classes, and partnerships with the town’s Department of Social Services and Fern Street Universalist Church.

The videos were made possible with a grant from the Thomas F. Kilfoil Bequest, West Hartford Public Library Foundation.

“We welcome anyone who doesn’t have a card to apply and connect with us by visiting our buildings, attending programs virtually for now and in-person when it is safe to gather, calling us for information, navigating our website and so much more,” said Interim Library Director Carol Waxman.

Since the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, West Hartford Public Library staff have worked tirelessly to offer critical services to the West Hartford community. Through curbside service, virtual programming, safe computer and browsing appointments, expanding digital materials, and answering record numbers of calls to connect patrons to the services they need, librarians never gave up on providing for the West Hartford community.

Data shows just how important library services were to patrons.

In the 10 months since the pandemic hit in mid-March, West Hartford Public Library processed 1,356 new library cards, which is hundreds more cards than the library typically processes in a single year. In fact, September was a record-breaking month for the library, which processed 286 new cards.

“That’s the most in any month as far as back as we can track,” said Ann Marie Salerno, the library’s head of circulation services. “When school started back up in September, more teachers and students starting using our digital databases than ever before.”

Loans on downloadable materials – which includes eBooks, eMagazines, eAudiobooks and more – increased dramatically as well. For this fiscal year, the library is on pace to exceed 180,000 digital loans – a sharp increase from 87,000 two years ago and 59,000 the year before that. The library’s new website, which launched in December, also makes it easier for patrons to access academic databases, digital streaming partners like Hoopla or AcornTV, and online classes. The library is also about to launch a new partnership with Kanopy, giving cardholders access to thousands of critically-acclaimed movies and TV shows.

Whether it’s a book recommendation, or needing help accessing one of our digital resources, there’s a librarian at a phone ready to answer a patron’s call when the library is open.

“The library is a resource for all sorts of things that really can’t be found on the Internet,” West Hartford Public Library Foundation President Chuck Coursey says in one of the videos. “Sometimes you do need that person with the expertise to help you know where to look.”

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