East Lansing’s Library Has Treasure Trove Online, Open to All

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

A peak through the window of the East Lansing Public Library as it remains closed during the stay-at-home order.

If you’re stuck at home because of the pandemic and have run out of books and Netflix documentaries, the East Lansing Public Library would like to help.

Although the brick-and-mortar library closed its doors on March 16 and physical books are not circulating, the library offers access to a huge wealth of online books, magazines, music, movies, TV shows, and other media through a series of portals on the library’s website.

Cloud Library has a huge catalogue of books available digitally, while Hoopla offers a rich selection of music, movies and TV shows. RB Digital hosts magazines online, and Overdrive provides another collection of audiobooks and ebooks.

Adding to this, the public library recently acquired access to Acorn TV – the largest streaming source of British TV, including numerous mysteries and comedy shows from our pandemic-ridden ally.

Library Director Kristin Shelley tells ELi that the new resources were made possible by a dramatic shift in technology in the past ten years that have completely changed how libraries can and do get media material to their patrons.

In normal times, prospective patrons would need to verify their East Lansing residency, but since that can’t be done until the physical library reopens, a new library card is essentially open to anyone who wants one from the website. 

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the library is planning to continue Story Time at 10:30 a.m. for children under age 6 on Facebook. Story Time is usually split between infants, toddlers and preschoolers, but for now they’ll all be in one group (accessed here).

Additionally, the library is continuing its book clubs online, including Books on Tap, which this month is reading In the Woods by Tana French. Instead of meeting at their usual spot, Jimmy’s Pub up on Chandler Road, the club will be meeting online on Zoom on April 14.

“People will have to have their beer or wine at home,” Shelley said.

An adult social justice book group is reading I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arcenaux, although they won’t be meeting to discuss the book until June 17, which may be after social distancing requirements have loosened and the library has re-opened.

For parents looking for help instructing older kids or people who would simply like to learn something new, the library gives access to lynda.com, which has online courses in a range of content, and mangolanguages.com, which has instruction in up to 75 languages.

In addition to access to ProQuest research databases, a library card offers access to World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica, both more authoritative sources of basic knowledge than wikipedia. 

The library has chosen not to lay off any staff as of yet. Those involved with programming are busy working to move those programs online. Others have taken home the library’s 3D printers and are producing N95 masks to give to healthcare workers.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Returned books stacked up, seen through the window of the ELPL.

The shutdown has meant a serious hit to the library’s finances. The library has suspended overdue fines, it’s most visible funding stream, but more significantly, Shelley said they can’t bring in revenue from renting out meeting space, and the big annual fundraiser was canceled for April 17.

The Friends of the East Lansing Public Library (FOELPL) book sales, which bring in $3000 to $4000 a month, have also been suspended.

The library already faced significant capital maintenance needs, including replacing a leaky roof and aging boiler to heat the facility.

East Lansing residents who don’t have Internet access or computer skills are still left out of the mix, but for safety reasons Shelley said they decided not to keep books circulating, even via curbside pickups. The mobile library vans are also not operating.

“The digital divide is only going to grow, unfortunately,” she said.

As more information about the virus has become available, some precautions have been scaled back. The library had thought they must wait 72 hours before attempting to disinfect books, but after a webinar update with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this was shortened to 24 hours.

For now, the library is still just letting books pile up that are returned, until they have an idea of when the physical library will reopen.

Have you discovered some new joy via the library thanks to the pandemic? Share your lemons-into-lemonade story with us for our Little Local Joys series!

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed.

Note: This article was corrected because it originally said that mango.com provides language instruction. We have corrected that to mangolanguages.com.

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