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The COVID-19 pandemic arrived just one month after I stepped in as the new director of The Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives in February 2020. Within a month’s time, we closed our doors as the state’s stay-at-home order came into effect. Suddenly relegated to a kitchen counter office, creating connections and learning about the Stockbridge community became startlingly challenging. The inability to meet our constituents face to face, or even to be in the same building as my new colleagues, brought on a little bit of panic and a lot of creative thinking.

Thanks to the tenacious and savvy staff and the unending support of our board and volunteers, we played to our strengths from our homes. We stayed connected through Zoom meetings, phone conversations and texting. Staff members who had decades of connections with our patrons made phone calls to check in with those who fell on the losing side of the digital divide as our world became virtual.

With the help of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, the entire staff remained fully employed throughout the shutdown and beyond. As a result, we were able to quickly pivot our approach to library services.

We began offering technology help sessions over the phone, guiding patrons through the process of virtual meetings, so they could participate in online medical appointments, see family on screen, or attend virtual religious services. The importance of connection during the isolation of the pandemic serves as a poignant reminder that libraries are critical resources in times of crisis.

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To expand our program offerings, our generous community offered it talents and connections, providing us with avenues for virtual programs with esteemed authors, award-winning novelists, actors and poets. We kept kids reading with digital storytimes, a call-in storyline and curated storybook bundles for curbside pickup. And, we challenged our armchair historians with a digital quiz game on Stockbridge history.

For all of us, the pandemic has caused us to think outside of our normal operations. We took advantage of our central location on Main Street and large lawn to provide unique opportunities in Stockbridge’s downtown district for socially distanced outdoor events like the First Annual Stockbridge Ice Festival.

These events, spurred on by the necessity of cautious outdoor gathering during the pandemic, planted the seeds for new traditions and helped to spark business activity in our vibrant, but suppressed, downtown.

Our post-pandemic future will hold more creative approaches to programming and collaborations, hybrid events with live and virtual components, expanding our home delivery service, and continuing to offer convenient pickup options. We also plan to more actively strategize methods to bridge the digital divide in our region.

We will emerge from these difficult times with an enhanced focus on community connections, social equity, and a more comprehensive vision of the needs of our community and our future goals.

Wendy Pearson is director of Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.