IMLS staff interviewed chief officers of State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) to discuss their response to the pandemic, including the use of IMLS American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) 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, $178 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 Krishnan (Kris) Seerengan, Director of Guam Public Library System. Read more about the Guam Public Library System’s priorities in the state profile for Guam.
Madison: What approach have you taken with the CARES Act and ARPA stimulus funds, including mechanisms you have used to distribute them?
Kris: Funding through the CARES Act allowed us to purchase equipment and supplies, such as MiFi devices, portable printers, laptops, and paper for a mobile library. With the ARPA stimulus funds, The Guam Public Library System (GPLS) will recruit five additional library technicians. During the pandemic, GPLS lost several staff members through either retirement or resignation. With the additional library technicians, GPLS will be able to open more of its branch libraries throughout the week.
Madison: How have you seen the libraries in your state shift to respond to the pandemic, and how have you shifted to support them?
Kris: When schools transitioned from face-to-face learning to distance or online learning, it also meant school libraries were closed. Being the only public library on the island, GPLS stepped in and offered curbside services that allowed book borrowing, book returns, services for the Blind and Print Disabled, and library card membership. Requests were accepted by phone or via email. Shortly after re-opening, GPLS offered free printing services to students, parents, and teachers in an effort to support the educational community while they transitioned back to face-to-face learning.
Madison: What challenges and opportunities have you observed since the pandemic?
Kris: The COVID-19 pandemic caused GPLS to re-examine how to better serve the community during these times. This resulted in the identification of many challenges. Challenges included increasing digital resources, digitizing the libraries’ resources and collections, ensuring the safety of the staff and patrons during a pandemic while providing services, and providing a safe alternative to regularly scheduled programs. As a result, the library is actively working towards resolving these challenges to ensure the continuity of services should a similar situation arise.
The library also recognized opportunities to serve the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and collaborated with sister agencies, private businesses, and organizations to provide support. GPLS partnered with the Guam Department of Labor to help administer the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to those displaced from work due to the pandemic. In this role, GPLS served the community with its public computers, space, and libraries strategically located around the island. The library also offered three of its staff to temporarily join the PUA team to help individuals file their claims. By July 29, 2020, the number of PUA claims filed reached 36,281.
Through the collaboration with the Department of Revenue and Taxation (DRT), GPLS offered its branch libraries across the island as additional sites to access passport application forms. Patrons visiting the library for this reason were also able to take advantage of other services the library had to offer. To show continued support during the pandemic, GPLS also collaborated with DRT on the All Rise Program – a local stimulus program funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and aimed at helping the community get back to work. This program went online on September 1, 2021. To support its sister agency, GPLS had staff undergo training with DRT in order to assist the community with applying for the All Rise Program. The library staff was at the ready with its resources and services for those who wanted to apply either online or for those who just wanted to pick up a printed application form.
Schools continued to operate through 100% distance learning from March 2020 until the start of this school year in August 2021, so there was a demand for online learning support during that period. GPLS libraries offered the use of its public computers and library spaces across the island. One school in particular, Career Tech High Academy Charter School, regularly used the main library and its branches to reach their students with transportation issues. This collaboration allowed GPLS to reach the underserved demographic. On a similar note, GPLS also offered support to AmeriCorps, which needed to conduct online trainings utilizing the library’s public computers and space. This collaboration was successful and did not hinder any library operations.
An additional collaboration that proved successful was with the University of Guam (UOG) Press, where GPLS posted live readings from local authors about the culture and island of Guam on its social media page. This collaboration was instrumental in carrying out the Annual Summer Reading Program and GPLS is grateful that UOG Press tailored their live readings to this year’s program theme. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, GPLS put a pause on all in-person programs at all of its libraries. As a safer alternative, GPLS offered Grab and Go Kits which included simple arts and crafts projects and other fun activities for children to do at home with their parents. It was also a way to grant some sort of reprieve at a time when the pandemic affected the social and emotional wellbeing of children as a result of schools shutting down.