Editor’s Note: IMLS staff interviewed chief officers of State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) to discuss their response to the coronavirus, including the use of IMLS CARES Act funds to the states. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Because of the infrastructure of the Grants to States program and the agility of SLAAs, $30 million was rapidly rolled out to benefit libraries and their patrons across the country, and in some cases, museums, and tribes. This post is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Madison Bolls interviewing Erlinda Naputi, Library Director at Joeten-Kiyu Public Library in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Read more about Joeten-Kiyu Public Library’s priorities in the state profile for the Northern Marianas.
Madison: What approach have you taken with the CARES Act stimulus funds, including mechanisms you have used to distribute them?
Erlinda: The Joeten-Kiyu Public Library (JKPL) utilized the CARES Act stimulus funding for digital inclusion projects. We invested in virtual learning resources such as subscribing to Ebscohost, Gale Cengage, and adding more than 100 e-books to our digital library from Baker and Taylor Axis 360. We made these virtual learning resources available through our website and promoted them through social media. We marketed digitally and in print on our monthly calendar, in local newspapers, television interviews, and radio announcements. We also distributed information in our Summer Reading Program Packages to Go to more than 600 registered early literacy, toddlers, children, teens, and adults in our Summer Reading Program.
Madison: How have you seen the libraries in your state shift to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and how have you shifted to support them?
Erlinda: The JKPL Library is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) State Library with 3 branches—Tinian Public Library (Tinian), Antonio C. Atalig Memorial library (Rota Public Library), and the Bookmobile (Saipan)—serving a population of 53,883 according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Following health and safety measures in compliance with governmental directives and guidelines, we collaborated with the CNMI Public School System, youth centers, and our western Pacific library partners from the Pacific Island Association for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, by sharing virtual learning resources, procedures, and policies.
JKPL also served as a distribution site for CNMI Public School System Child Nutrition Program Summer Meals to Go, with JKPL distributing more than 3,269 pre-packaged meal sets to children and teens to ensure all students have access to healthy meals during virtual learning in the summer.
For our staff, we conducted professional development on COVID-19 library pandemic policies and procedures for our team and our branch libraries to support the safety and health of our community. We partnered with Homeland Security Emergency Management Office to obtain some personal protective equipment for our team to effectively sanitize, disinfect, and clean the library facility for the public.
We printed more than 100 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance/Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation applications in collaboration with the CNMI Department of Labor, and served as an initial application distribution site, assisting community members who were unemployed from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Friends of the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library provided hand sanitizer, operational funding support for supplies, virtual learning resources, and e-books—necessary to promote the library’s continued existence as a vital informational, cultural, educational, and recreational asset to the island communities. They also helped sponsor community cultural classes for the public during the COVID-19 pandemic on topics such as fishing (“How to Use the Talaya: Throw/Cast Net”). We conducted in-person and virtual read alouds in English and our native language, Chamorro. We have provided curbside pick-up services; library card application via phone; expanded free wifi services to our parking lot; provided free printing and scanning services for employment, school, and ADA. We also revised and extended our library service hours to meet the needs of our community, and we have modified our entire library space to be in compliance with governmental health and safety measures and standards.
Madison: What challenges and opportunities have you observed during the pandemic?
Erlinda: JKPL is located in the Pacific and in close proximity to neighboring island COVID-19 hotspots and Asian countries that are at the center of the pandemic. This resulted in our island’s economic shortfalls. We have faced severe budget cuts and 53% staff furloughs. Despite these challenges, we have continued to work together as a team to maintain our library service hours and take on additional roles and duties with our limited manpower and resources. We continue to actively apply for grant funding opportunities and strengthen community partnership where and whenever possible.
As a public institution, other challenges include providing in-person programming and services in compliance with COVID-19 library policy and procedures. Providing the community access to technology to take advantage of the free learning resources remains a chief concern. According to the 2016 CNMI Household Income and Expenditure Survey Report, about 52.7 percent had an internet connection, 18 percent had broadband internet, and 41.5 percent had a personal computer. Compounded by the rise in unemployment, JKPL continues to provide free access to technology, facilitate digital classes for the community, and provide a safe space for the community to access information.
We are an essential provider of free books, e-books, virtual learning resources, research databases, information, ideas, and education serving the CNMI for 29 years. As we continue to better serve our community during this pandemic, we would like to thank the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the opportunity to share our story.