The end of the calendar year is often a time for introspection and reflection on the events of the last year. 2020 has given us many challenges and lessons to consider in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The year was often a difficult one, and our Library was no different than any other organization or individual in having to adapt rapidly to drastically changing circumstances. However, Neuse Regional Libraries were still able to accomplish much over the last year, and we are very proud that we were able to continue making every effort to provide innovative and transformative services to the residents of our region.
This year saw the beginning of our Literacy Without Barriers program, funded by a federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant. Through this project, the Library was able to begin offering homework help at locations across Lenoir, Greene, and Jones Counties. While deploying all of the necessary COVID-19 precautions, including PPE and sanitation measures, the Library offers one-to-one help for students on their regular homework assignments free of charge. The Library also began offering adult learning services for those interested. Trained tutors use an assessment and interviews to determine how to best improve the participants’ literacy in weekly, one-on-one sessions.
The Literacy Without Barriers has complemented the Library’s existing STEM 4 All program nicely. STEM 4 All, also funded by an LSTA grant, brings STEM programming directly to City of Kinston housing facilities. Participants get off the bus at their stop as usual and go directly to an on-site location for an afterschool program that offers homework help, access to technology, talks from local prominent figures in STEM roles, and interactive science and engineering programming. This year the Library was able to introduce a second afterschool program, STEMology, at the Pink Hill Public Library, funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant. The Library will use peer mentoring to expand these services to the La Grange Public Library in January as part of the Curious Minds STEM program. All of this programming serves to reinforce the idea of family literacy, entire families improving their literacy skills together, and works to decrease the homework gap, or the gap in achievement between students who have access to the Internet at home and those who do not.
Closing the homework gap was the focus of another of our major initiatives this year, the WiFi for All project in Jones County. This project, currently being implemented, will result in ten drive-in hotspot locations across Jones County, many in areas where the Internet is otherwise difficult to access. This project was also funded by a Library Services and Technology grant, this time funded by federal CARES funding. Additionally, thanks to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ statewide Park and Learn program, all locations of the Neuse Regional Library now have access to fast wireless Internet in their parking lots, allowing students, job seekers, and others who need quick Internet access to do so at their convenience.
All of these programs were in addition to continuing our regular services and programming, which had to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs presented by the COVID-19 era. We began offering curbside pickup of materials, and started offering programs virtually. Our annual Night of Joy program celebrating the holiday season as a community was just presented as a streaming YouTube premiere for the first time and was a great success. We also began offering “Try Its”, short impromptu programs offered to patrons in the library at the time, as a temporary replacement for regular programming.
It has been an eventful year, and certainly very challenging for everyone, but the way our community has responded and supported us in our efforts to continue providing library services has been extremely encouraging. We would also like to thank our Library Board members for being so supportive during this challenging time. We hope that 2021 will allow us to return to some of our more traditional programs, but we will also continue to be able to use many of the innovations created by our current situation to provide the best services possible to everyone in our community. For more information on library services, please call 252-527-7066, Ext. 134.