At 12:32 AM CST on Tuesday, March 3, an EF2 tornado touched down west of Nashville. Before it abated at 1:35 AM, it would grow into an EF3, travel just over 60 miles, destroy or damage more than 2,200 structures, injure 220 people, and claim the lives of two more.
Less than a week later, even as the community worked to recover from the storm, a new crisis emerged. After reaching the United States on January 20, COVID-19 spread across the country at an alarming rate, with the first case in Davidson County reported on March 8.
On March 22, Nashville Mayor John Cooper issued a “Safer at Home” order to the city. It would cause the majority of Nashville businesses to close, restrict public gatherings to practically nothing, and force most of the city’s residents to stay indoors, where they remain to this day.
To date, the virus has infected a confirmed 1,903 people, and contributed to the deaths of 20, in Davidson County.
And through it all, providing resources, aid, and, perhaps most importantly, hope, was Nashville’s library.
As libraries across the country join together to celebrate National Library Week, our team at Nashville Public Library (NPL) is using the opportunity to reflect on the past few weeks and all that our community has achieved. Through a combination of skill, ingenuity, and plain old-fashioned grit, our library staff and volunteers have found ways to keep our patrons engaged and offer some much-needed relief in these trying times.
This is how we did it.
An Early Start on Summer Reading
One of the most anticipated events at NPL each year is the Summer Reading Challenge. The annual event brings the city together to explore reading in all its forms, exchange stories, explore new ideas, and win prizes for reading.
Originally, the Summer Challenge committee planned to launch in May. When NPL’s 21 locations closed on March 16, and Nashvillians were confined to their homes, they realized they couldn’t wait that long.
And so, on Monday, April 13, Summer Reading Challenge 2020 officially launched.
While online users can register and log minutes on the Summer Challenge website, NPL didn’t want to leave those without internet access behind. Through a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), the team was able to distribute print registration and reading logs to parents and children as part of MNPS’s weekly meal drops.
Summer Reading Challenge isn’t just a positive boost in these tumultuous times — it’s an essential investment in Nashville’s future. Only 34% of Nashville’s third-graders graduate reading at the expected level, according to the 2018 Blueprint for Early Childhood Success. Why? Because of the phenomenon called “summer slide,” when kids abandon daily reading while school is out.
The Challenge is NPL’s answer to the problem. In 2019, the Challenge drew record numbers of readers of all ages, with Nashville reading more than 18 million minutes in total.
Our goal for this year is 20 million minutes read. Despite the struggles that Nashville faces now, we’re confident that our city will, once again, rise to the challenge.
Sharing a Story Through Streaming
If you ask our patrons what keeps them coming to NPL, many will likely tell you it's the library’s story times. Every week, at multiple branch locations, dozens of children, parents, caregivers, and librarians join together to enjoy stories, songs, puppets, and more. For many, it’s the highlight of their week.
That’s why, when we made the difficult, but responsible, decision to close our system, we knew that our story time crowd would be hit particularly hard. But we refused to settle for “that’s just the way it is right now.”
On Tuesday, March 31, the first of our online story times aired. It featured The Professor, a character played by Brian Hull, head of the library’s resident puppet troupe, Wishing Chair Productions.
Even without the benefit of the full stage and sound system he normally enjoys, Hull still delivered an uplifting experience. The event drew more than 2,400 views and reached more than 9,500 people, with dozens of comments from viewers offering praise, thanks, and encouragement.
Today, Hull continues sharing his love of storytelling with his online audience every Tuesday. Recently, he welcomed special guest Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show on his show, engaging 2,586 and reaching 8,559 people.
And he’s far from alone. Across our system, our team of librarians have moved story time to the digital domain. With a variety of programming now streaming every week through NPL Universe, our patrons continue to experience the joy of sharing a story with their little ones.
It may not replace our in-person events, but for fans of story time, it’s a close second.
A Helping Hand with Homeschool
With the majority of schools closed across the country, many parents and caregivers now find themselves serving as their children’s primary teacher. For people not used to shouldering the responsibilities that teachers typically have, the change has been drastic.
That’s why we decided to lend a helping hand.
Home School Friends, a weekly program to help homeschool families explore different subjects, was already popular at NPL, even before the onset of COVID-19. With the start of the quarantine, Katie Hall, children’s librarian and coordinator for Homeschool Friends, took the program online.
For the past few weeks, Hall has been engaging her families over Zoom. Together, they explore diverse topics like song and dance, foods, fairy tales, and more from around the world. Meanwhile, the kids who attend are delighted with show-and-tell, sharing their favorite toys, pets, people, and more with each other.
Thus far, between six to eight families, and about 15 children, attend each Zoom meeting. Parents have expressed their thanks to Hall for not only remembering their homeschool families, but giving them something novel to look forward to every week.
Standing Together, No Matter the Distance
These are just a few of the things our library has done to help Nashville keep on its feet, but it certainly isn’t everything. From taking programs online, to simply calling to check on our library families, there are countless examples of how NPL is helping our city weather these unparalleled events.
But no matter how much we’ve done, we can’t take all the credit. Nashville is a city filled with resolute, optimistic people. Their determination to endure whatever life throws at them with a smile gives us all the inspiration we need to do what we do best — provide the great, modern library they deserve.
While we may be socially distanced now, NPL and our community have never been closer. We will continue to be there for them, serving however we can, until this crisis has passed, and far beyond.